X-rays use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make images of the bones, and surrounding soft tissues. Standard X-rays are done for many reasons, including diagnosing tumors, infections, foreign bodies, or bone injuries.
X-rays are made by using external radiation to produce images of the extremity for diagnostic purposes. X-rays pass through body structures onto specially treated plates (similar to camera film). It makes a "negative" type picture (the more solid a structure is, the whiter it appears on the film). Instead of film, X-rays may also be made by using computers and digital media.
When the body undergoes X-rays, different parts of the body allow varying amounts of the X-ray beams to pass through. Images are produced in degrees of light and dark, depending on the amount of X-rays that penetrate the tissues. The soft tissues in the body (such as blood, skin, fat, and muscle) allow most of the X-ray to pass through and appear dark gray on the film. A bone or a tumor, which is denser than the soft tissues, allows few of the X-rays to pass through and appears white on the X-ray. At a break in a bone, the X-ray beam passes through the broken area and appears as a dark line in the white bone.
X-rays of the arm, leg, hand, foot, ankle, shoulder, knee, hip or hand may be done to assess the bones for injuries. This includes fractures or broken bones. X-rays can also show evidence of other injuries or conditions, such as infection, arthritis, tendinitis, bone spurs, foreign bodies, tumors, or birth defects. X-rays may also be used to see bone growth and development in children.
Your healthcare provider may request X-rays of joints to check for abnormalities of the joint such as bone spurs, narrowing of the joint, and changes in the structure of the joint.
There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an X-ray of the arms and legs.
You may want to ask your healthcare provider about the amount of radiation used during the procedure and the risks related to your particular situation. It is a good idea to keep a record of your radiation exposure, such as previous scans and other types of X-rays, so that you can inform your providers. Risks associated with radiation exposure may be related to the cumulative number of X-ray exams or treatments over a long period.
If you are pregnant or think you might be, tell your healthcare provider. Radiation exposure during pregnancy may lead to birth defects. If you need an X-ray of the extremities, you will get special precautions to minimize the radiation exposure to the fetus.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.
An X-ray may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your stay in a hospital. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your provider's practices.
Generally, an X-ray procedure of the extremities follows this process:
While the X-ray procedure itself causes no pain, moving a potentially injured body part may cause some discomfort or pain. The radiologic technologist will use all possible comfort measures and complete the procedure as quickly as possible to minimize any discomfort or pain.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know: