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Spinal X-Ray

(continued)

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.

Risks

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).

Results

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.

Spinal X-ray
Normal:

The bones of the spine (vertebrae) are normal in number, size, shape, appearance, and how they are lined up.

No broken bones, dislocations, or foreign objects are present. The soft tissues around the vertebrae look normal.

The spine is not abnormally curved.

Abnormal:

Broken bones, dislocations, or foreign objects are present.

The spine is abnormally curved, such as from scoliosis.

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 for the fetus.
  • If you can't remain still during the test. The pictures may not be clear.
  • If you are very overweight. This can make it hard to see the details of the spinal X-ray.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 24, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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