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Spine X-ray

If you have an issue with your back, a spine x-ray is one of the first tests a doctor will order to determine what is wrong. Spine x-rays can detect a large range of conditions – from bone injuries to tumours.

A spine x-ray uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of the spine that show bones, organs and internal tissues. They produce images through degrees of light and dark, which can help a doctor or radiologist identify problems in the area.

A spine x-ray is different from a CT scan, in the sense that it is not as detailed. CT scans also take a number of pictures, so that a 3D image can be created. While a spine x-ray isn’t a specific as a CT scan, it is a lot more common. Spine x-rays are easier to do, and they are enough to detect a large range of conditions.

The spine is a large region, so a doctor may need to take multiple x-rays in order to capture it all. The spine is split into four regions: cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine.

Cervical spine: this section is is your upper spine and consists of seven vertebrae and parts of your neck.

Thoracic spine: this is the middle part of your spine that has two vertebrae that are attached to your rib cage.

Lumbar spine: this is the lower part of your spine that has five vertebrae.

Sacrum/coccyx: this is the very bottom of your spine, where there are five bones fused to four small bones of the tailbone.

A x-ray of the spine will help a doctor discover what the issue is and, consequently, assist them to make a diagnosis and to determine the best treatment plan.

How do spine x-rays work?

When a spine x-ray is conducted, X-ray beams through your body that show a black white and grey image on a computer, or on subsequent film print outs. Dense things in your spine, like bones, will show up white, and soft tissues will show up as grey or darker. This is because dense matter allows less beam to shine through, so it’s lighter. Whereas soft tissue allows more beam to shine through, creating the darkness.

The contrast of colours shows a radiologist a clear image of what is in your spine. For example, if theres a fracture or break, they can see a dark line on the white image of the bone, where the beam shines through. Or, if there is a tumour, they will be about to see abnormal matter show up, too. If an abnormality is detected, a doctor will usually order further tests to determine the exact cause, and seriousness of the condition.

Why might you need a spine x-ray?

If you have pain, discomfort or notice something unusual with your spine, after a physical exam, a doctor nexts call to order will usually be recommending an x ray of the spine. They are also ordered when a patient has an injury that may have affected the spinal area.

Spine x-rays scans are not only used to detect conditions, they can also be used to monitor progress. If a patient is receiving treatment for a condition like scoliosis, a physician may issue an x-ray to check if the treatment is working effectively.

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

  • Neck pain or discomfort
  • Upper back pain or discomfort
  • Middle back pain or discomfort
  • Lower back pain or discomfort
  • If you’ve been involved in an injury that affects the back
  • If a condition like Scoliosis or arthritis is suspected

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

  • Broken bones
  • Fractures
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Tumour/s
  • Degeneration of the disks
  • Arthritis
  • Infections
  • Bone spurs
  • Scoliosis

How to prepare for your spine x-ray

An x-ray of the spine will almost always be ordered by a doctor, so you should have already discussed your symptoms with him or her. If the doctor has ordered for you to have a spine x-ray there’s not much you need to do to prepare, as it’s a non-invasive test.

Prior to the appointment you won’t need to do anything out of the ordinary, however, you will be asked to remove anything metal, so it’s a good idea to do this before you leave the house. Metal objects will obstruct the imaging test and will block photos, so a technician won’t be able to see the bones and soft tissues in that area.

You should remove all metal objects, like necklaces, bracelet, earrings, hair pins, piercings and hearing aids. If you have an implanted metal device, like a hearing implant or pacemaker, you should let your technician know before the x-rays starts. Hairspray and some make up can contain metal particles, so avoid using this before your x-ray appointment.

What to expect from your spine x-ray

During the scan 

When you arrive at your appointment you’ll be taken into the x-ray room. Here, a nurse or technician will give you a hospital gown to change into for the imaging test.

Once you’re in your hospital gown, you will be asked to lay down on an exam table, and an x-ray machine will be hanging above you. The technician will then position you in the appropriate way so that the x-ray can take images of your spine. Often, they’ll cover other parts of your body with a lead mat, that blocks radiation from getting through.

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

Sometimes, several images will be required, so the technician will come back and adjust your position a few times to ensure that all angles are captured.

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

An x ray is a non invasive procedure, so you should feel completely normal after the x-ray and be able to go about your day as normal. While there is generally no special instructions for spinal x-ray after care, you should always check specifically with your technician, in case there is an exception.

X-rays are usually quite quick to process, so in most cases your results will be available that same day. You can make an appointment for your doctor in which they can go over your results with you, and inform you of anything they’ve found.

What are the benefits of a spine x-ray?

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

  • X rays are non invasive and painless.
  • They are very useful in detecting a number of conditions, and are an easy and effective way to determine if you have a broken bone or fracture.
  • X rays are very quick, in many cases your results will be available the same day.
  • They are relatively cheap, in comparison to a CT scan or a magnetic resonance imaging test.


Are spine x-rays harmful to my health?

Radiologists specialise specifically in imaging tests, and are highly experience in taking, and reading, x-rays. Their expertise will ensure that you aren’t put in any danger when you’re in the x-ray room.

Many people are hesitant when it comes to x rays because of radiation, however humans are actually exposed to radiation in their everyday life. The amount of radiation that is emitted during a normal spine x ray is very small and 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.

How long does a spine x ray take?

This will depend on how many positions your technician requires you to be in, in order to capture adequate images. However, spine x-rays are generally very quick, and the imaging test will usually take somewhere between 10 and 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 clinic here.