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X-ray - skeleton

Skeletal survey

A skeletal x-ray is an imaging test used to look at the bones. It is used to detect fractures, tumors, or conditions that cause wearing away (degeneration) of the bone.

How the Test is Performed

The test is done in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist.

You will lie on a table or stand in front of the x-ray machine, depending on the bone that is injured. You may be asked to change position so that different x-ray views can be taken.

The x-ray particles pass through the body. A computer or special film records the images.

Structures that are dense (such as bone) will block most of the x-ray particles. These areas will appear white. Metal and contrast media (special dye used to highlight areas of the body) will also appear white. Structures containing air will be black. Muscle, fat, and fluid will appear as shades of gray.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell the provider if you are pregnant. You must remove all jewelry before the x-ray.

How the Test will Feel

The x-rays are painless. Changing positions and moving the injured area for different x-ray views may be uncomfortable. If the whole skeleton is being imaged, the test most often takes 1 hour or more.

Why the Test is Performed

This test is used to look for:

  • Fractures or broken bone
  • Cancer that has spread to other areas of the body
  • Osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone caused by an infection)
  • Bone damage due to trauma (such as an auto accident) or degenerative conditions
  • Abnormalities in the soft tissue around the bone

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal findings include:

  • Fractures
  • Bone tumors
  • Degenerative bone conditions
  • Osteomyelitis

Risks

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays machines are set to provide the smallest amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

Children and the fetuses of pregnant women are more sensitive to the risks of the x-ray. A protective shield may be worn over areas not being scanned.

References

Bearcroft PWP, Hopper MA. Imaging techniques and fundamental observations for the musculoskeletal system. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 45.

Contreras F, Perez J, Jose J. Imaging overview. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR. eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 7.

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    X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation that can penetrate the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray depending on density. X-rays can provide information about obstructions, tumors, and other diseases, especially when coupled with the use of barium and air contrast within the bowel.

    X-ray

    illustration

  • Skeleton - illustration

    The skeleton consists of groups of bones which protect and move the body.

    Skeleton

    illustration

  • Skeletal spine - illustration

    The spine is divided into several sections. The cervical vertebrae make up the neck. The thoracic vertebrae comprise the chest section and have ribs attached. The lumbar vertebrae are the remaining vertebrae below the last thoracic bone and the top of the sacrum. The sacral vertebrae are caged within the bones of the pelvis, and the coccyx represents the terminal vertebrae or vestigial tail.

    Skeletal spine

    illustration

  • Hand X-ray - illustration

    An x-ray is a photo taken with a machine which passes electromagnetic radiation through the body, capturing an image of the internal structures.

    Hand X-ray

    illustration

  • Skeleton (posterior view) - illustration

    The skeleton consists of groups of bones which protect and move the body.

    Skeleton (posterior view)

    illustration

  • The skeleton (lateral view) - illustration

    The skeleton consists of groups of bones which protect and move the body.

    The skeleton (lateral view)

    illustration

Tests for X-ray - skeleton

 
 

Review Date: 5/13/2019

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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