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Hand X-ray

Hands are made up of the wrist, palm, and fingers have the most bones out of all body parts in a human. The hand is made up of 27 bones – just one more than the foot. Those bones include 8 carpal bones, 5 metacarpal bones and 14 phalanges (otherwise known as finger bones).

Most people know that x-rays are predominantly used to detect breaks and fractures, so it should come as little surprise that – with so many bones in the body part – hand x-rays are very common.

Along with detecting breaks and fractures, hand x-rays are also used to find deformities, degenerative diseases and other issues.

While other imaging tests, like CT scans and MRI’s, are very common when it comes to detecting issues in other body parts, like the brain, these tests are less common with hands. X-rays are very effective in finding issues with the bones, while other tests are more effective in identifying tissue issues. Areas like the hand – which are rich in bones – can often find the issue through an x-ray, and a CT scan won’t be required. However, while this is commonplace, there are always exceptions, and some conditions may require further testing after an x-ray.

An x-ray of the hand will often help a doctor discover what the issue is and, consequently, assist them to make a diagnosis and determining the best treatment plan.

How do hand x-rays work?

All x-rays of the body work the same – they use the same machine and the same protocols. However, a hand x-ray is used to capture images of the hand specifically.

These x-ray images are captured through the use of an x-ray beam, which shines through the hand and projects an image onto a computer screen, or subsequent x-ray film print outs. Dense matter, like bones, doesn’t let much of the beam shine through, so this anatomy will appear as white on the x-ray. Other, less dense matter, like soft tissues, lets more of the beam shine through, so these things appear darker on the image – usually grey or dark grey.

An x-ray is able to easily show a broken bone or fracture, because this break in the bone allows the x-ray beams through, and will show as a black line on the image. Other issues, like a tumour, will show up as an abnormality – an image that wouldn’t’ usually show on a healthy hand. If something like this is detected, a doctor will usually order further tests to diagnose it.

Why might you need a hand x-ray?

If you have any pain or discomfort in your hand, a doctor will listen to your symptoms and usually run a physical exam to assess your condition. If they suspect that it’s something that can be recognised on an x-ray, they should go ahead and order one.

Hand x-rays are also commonly ordered when a patient has experienced a physical injury or accident that a doctor thinks may have repercussions on the hand. As well being used as a detective measure, they can be used to monitor progress on an injury or condition.

If you are experiencing any of the following issues, your doctor may order a hand x-ray.

  • Swelling or bruising in the fingers or hand
  • Finger pain or discomfort
  • Hand pain or discomfort
  • Wrist pain or discomfort
  • If you’ve been involved in an injury that affects the hand
  • If a degenerative condition like arthritis is suspected

Below are a number of conditions that a hand x ray can help diagnose.

  • Broken bones
  • Fractures
  • Tumour/s
  • Degenerative conditions of the hand
  • Arthritis
  • Infections
  • Bone spurs
  • Dislocated joints
  • Foreign body retrieval
  • Bone cancer

How to prepare for your hand x-ray

A hand x-ray is a quick and non-invasive procedure, so it won’t require much preparation. However, metal items should never be worn during an x-ray, because they have the ability to block the image. In the way that bones don’t let the x-ray beam shine through and appear white, metal objects will act the same.

Prior to beginning the hand x ray a doctor, nurse or technician will always ask you to remove all metal objects, like rings, piercings and bracelets. To save time and streamline the process, it’s a good idea to remove these objects at home before you head to your health care provider’s office. If you have an implanted permanent metal device, like pins or plates for a broken bone, you should let your technician know before the scan begins.

What to expect from your hand x-ray

During the scan 

When you arrive at the radiologist, you’ll be taken into an x-ray room and may be given a hospital gown to change into. Because the x-ray is of just your hand, you may be able to just keep the clothes you are wearing on, as long as there isn’t a long sleeve in the way. Your technician will advise whether you’ll need to put on a gown, or whether the clothes you are wearing are fine.

From here, the technician will ask you to adjust yourself in a certain position. Depending on your injury or suspected condition, this may involve lying down on an x ray table, or they may ask you to sit in a chair and position your arm in a certain way on the medical table. There will be x ray equipment hanging above the medical table. Often, the technician will place a lead mat over the rest of your arm, which blocks the radiation rays.

The technician will then head to a computer in an adjoining room with a window, or just behind a screen in the same room. At this time, they will take the images. It’s very important to stay completely still, as any movement at all can blur the x-ray images.

You may just need a single position, and then be finished. Or, the technician may need to come back and adjust your position a number of times so that they can get the appropriate angle for multiple x-ray images.

After the technician has finished capturing the pictures, they will usually ask you to wait a few minutes so that they can check that there is no blurring. After this, you’re free to head out of your appointment and the technician will inform you about when the results will be ready.

After the scan

X-rays are quick and generally quite easy for the patient – you shouldn’t’ feel any affects or have any down time after the imaging test. In most cases, you’ll be able to continue about your day as normal. However, you should always check with your specific physician to see if they have any special instructions.

X-rays are quick and, in many cases, a doctor can often read the results and share them that same day. You can chat with your doctor to arrange for a time for you to come in and receive your results. During this appointment the physician will show you the x-ray, and what they have found.

What are the benefits of a hand x-ray?

Below are some reasons why spine x-rays are commonly used.

  • X rays are very quick and you can often have your results explained to you that same day.
  • They are are painless and non-invasive.
  • X-rays are relatively cheap, in comparison to a CT scan or a magnetic resonance imaging test.
  • They are very effective in finding a number of issues, and are an effective and easy way to determine if you have a fracture or broken bone.


Is the radiation exposure from x-rays dangerous?

Contrary to what many people believe, x-rays are actually have very low radiation exposure. People actually already have radiation exposure in their every day life. In fact, the radiation exposure in a hand x-ray is the equivalent amount of radiation an average human (who didn’t have an x ray) would be exposed to over a 10 day period.

Are x-rays painful?

The x-ray itself should be completely painless – and you shouldn’t feel anything at all. However, you may experience pain from the way that your extremity needs to be adjusted in order to capture the image. This pain is come from the injury or condition itself – not the x ray.

How long does a hand x-ray take?

X-rays of the hand are generally very quick and only take a couple of minutes. This time taken may be slightly longer if a variety of positions are required in ordered to capture multiple images. However, the imaging test it self will usually take between 10-15 minutes.

Ready to make an appointment?

If you’d like to find out more information about our x-ray treatments you can do so here. To book a consultation or to make an appointment to see a doctor, you can get in touch with our friendly staff at our Gold coast radiology clinic.