How It Is Done
A spinal X-ray is taken by a radiology
technologist. The X-ray pictures are usually read by a doctor who specializes
in reading X-rays (radiologist).
You will need to remove any
jewelry that may be in the way of the X-ray picture. You may need to take off
some of your clothes, depending on which area is examined. You will be given a
cloth or paper gown to use during the test. You may be allowed to keep on your
underwear if it does not get in the way of the test.
X-ray test, you will lie on an X-ray table. If the X-ray is being taken because
of a possibly serious injury to your neck or back, to prevent causing more injury a radiologist will look at
the first X-ray pictures before taking others.
If you have a neck brace (cervical collar) in place, X-ray pictures may be
taken and a physical exam done to see whether the brace can be taken off
without hurting the spine.
Usually 3 to 5 X-ray pictures are
taken. You need to lie very still to avoid blurring the pictures.
A spinal X-ray usually takes about 15 minutes. You will wait about 5
minutes until the X-rays are processed in case more pictures need to be
taken. In some clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures can be shown right away
on a computer screen.
How It Feels
You will feel no discomfort from the
X-rays. The X-ray table may feel hard, and the room may be cool. You may find
that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful, especially if
you have an injury.
There is always a slight risk of damage to
cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels
of radiation used for this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is
usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.
For example, the radiation exposure from a chest X-ray is about equal to
the natural radiation exposure received during a round-trip airline flight from
Boston to Los Angeles (or Montreal to Vancouver) or 10 days in the Rocky
Mountains (Denver, Colorado).
In an emergency, a doctor can see the
results of a spinal X-ray in a few minutes. Otherwise, a
radiologist usually has the official X-ray report
ready the next day.
The bones of the spine
(vertebrae) are normal in number, size, shape, appearance, and how they are
No broken bones,
dislocations, or foreign objects are present. The soft
tissues around the vertebrae look normal.
The spine is not abnormally
Broken bones, dislocations, or
foreign objects are present.
The spine is abnormally
curved, such as from
Diseases that affect the
spine, such as thin bones (osteoporosis) or
arthritis, are present. One or more bones in the
spine may be abnormal because of a condition you were born with or because of cancer, infection, or trauma.
Disc disease, which is fairly
common, can sometimes be seen on a spinal X-ray as a narrowed space between the
bones of the spine. Bone spurs can also be seen.