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.
What Affects the Test
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
If you are pregnant. The X-rays may not be safe
can't remain still during the test. The pictures may not be
If you are very overweight. This can make it hard to see the
details of the spinal X-ray.
What To Think About
Your X-ray results may be different from earlier test results
because you were tested at a different medical center or you had a different
kind of test.
common causes of low back pain, such as strained back muscles or ligaments, do
not show up on a spinal X-ray.
Other tests, such as a
CT scan, an
MRI, or a
myelogram, provide more information about the spinal
bones, joints, nerves, discs, muscles, and ligaments than a spinal X-ray.
Spinal X-rays have been used by
some employers to screen healthy people for possible future back problems. But
most doctors do not believe that this is appropriate. If a
potential employer wants you to have a spinal X-ray before you can start
working, you may want first to discuss the matter with the employer and your
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis:
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009).
Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.