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Alternative Names:Vertebral radiography; X-ray – spine; Thoracic x-ray; Spine x-ray; Thoracic spine films; Back films
Doctors have used x-rays for over a century to see inside the body in order to diagnose a variety of problems, including cancer, fractures, and pneumonia. During this test, you usually stand in front of a photographic plate while a machine sends x-rays, a type of radiation, through your body. Originally, a photograph of internal structures was produced on film; nowadays, the image created by the x-rays goes directly into a computer. Dense structures, such as bone, appear white on the x-ray films because they absorb many of the x-ray beams and block them from reaching the plate. Hollow body parts, such as lungs, appear dark because x-rays pass through them. (In some other countries, like the United Kingdom, the colors are reversed, and dense structures are black.)
Vertebral radiography; X-ray – spine; Thoracic x-ray; Spine x-ray; Thoracic spine films; Back films. Doctors use back x-rays to examine the vertebrae in the spine for fractures, arthritis, or spine deformities such as scoliosis, as well as for signs of infection or cancer. X-rays can be taken separately for the three areas of the spine: the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back), and lumbar spine (lower back). Occasionally, doctors x-ray the pelvis to help diagnose the cause of back pain.
How do you prepare for the test?
You have to remove all clothing, undergarments, and jewelry from your upper body. You may be asked to wear a hospital gown.
Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant.
How the Test is Performed
The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider’s office by an x-ray technician. You will lie on the x-ray table and assume various positions. If the x-ray is to determine an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.
The x-ray machine will be positioned over the thoracic area of the spine. You will hold your breath as the picture is taken, so that the picture will not be blurry. Usually 2 or 3 views are needed.
What happens when the test is performed?
You either stand or lie down while a technician takes the x-rays. He or she positions you against the photographic plate (which looks like a large board) to get the clearest pictures. A front view and a side view are usually taken.
For cervical spine x-rays, the technician tells you to open your mouth as wide as you can before taking some of the pictures; this is done to avoid having your teeth block the view of the bones at the top of your spine.
The technician leaves the room or stands behind a screen while controlling the x-ray camera. To avoid a blurred image, he or she tells you to remain as still as possible, including holding your breath, before taking each picture.
Th test causes no discomfort. The table may be cold.
Why the Test is Performed?
The x-ray helps evaluate bone injuries, disease of the bone, tumors of the bone, or cartilage loss.
What risks are there from the test?
There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits as The amount of radiation from x-ray tests is too small. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of the x-ray as the radiation may be harmful to a developing fetus.
Must you do anything special after the test is over?
How long is it before the result of the test is known?
Although digital images are often available immediately, it may take additional time for a doctor to examine them. You’ll probably get the results later in the day.
The x-ray will not detect problems in the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues, because they can’t be seen well on an x-ray.