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Spinal X-rays are pictures of the spine. They may be taken to find injuries or diseases that affect the discs or joints in your spine. These problems may include spinal fractures, infections, dislocations, tumours, bone spurs, or disc disease.
Spinal X-rays are also done to check the curve of your spine (scoliosis) or for spinal defects.
The spine is divided into four parts. So there are four common types of spinal X-rays:
The most common spinal X-rays are of the cervical vertebrae (C-spine films) and lumbosacral vertebrae (LS-spine films).
A spinal X-ray is done to:
In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.
You will need to remove any jewellery 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.
During the 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, a radiologist will look at the first X-ray pictures before taking others. This is done to prevent causing more injury. If you have a neck brace (cervical collar) in place, X-ray pictures may be taken and a physical examination 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. In clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures can be shown right away on a computer screen.
You won't feel any pain from the X-ray itself. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful. This is more likely if you have an injury.
There is always a slight chance of damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the chance of damage from the X-rays is extremely low. It is not a reason to avoid the test.
If you need an X-ray during pregnancy, the chance of harm to your baby is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test. Talk to your doctor before the test if you have any concerns.
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 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.
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.
Adaptation Date: 2/21/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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