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Spinal X-Ray

(continued)

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.

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.
  • The most 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 doctor.

Other Works Consulted

  • Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerHoward Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
Last RevisedApril 24, 2012
1|2|3

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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