Using Radiographs to Diagnose Back Pain and Neck Pain
An x-ray is a common procedure which, in short, creates an image of the inside of your body. Powerful rays pass through the tissues in your body and generate images on a sheet of radiographic film. This allows your doctor to look for problems that range from scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine) to pneumonia.
This video animation will provide you with an overview of the x-ray process. You will learn about:
- the parts of an x-ray machine: An x-ray machine is made up of several parts including a cathode (which, once powered, releases electrons), an x-ray tube (a vacuum tube that moves the electrons along), and an anode (a disc on the opposite end of the x-ray tube often made of the metal tungsten, which attracts the electrons). When the electrons reach the tungsten, they release photons, which are then filtered into an x-ray beam.
- how x-rays are taken: When you arrive for an x-ray, your doctor or x-ray technician will ask you to remove any metal objects and jewelry from your body. You may need an injection of a contrast substance which helps make the x-rays clearer. You will then be situated between a radiographic film and the x-ray machine so that the rays can pass through your body and onto the film.
- why x-rays look the way they do: The images on an x-ray relate to the differing amounts of the x-ray beams that your body parts are able to absorb. High calcium levels in the bones make them absorb a high amount of the beams, causing bones to appear white on the radiograph. On the other hand, fat and soft tissues in the body absorb less of the x-rays, giving them a gray color. Because air absorbs the least amount of x-rays, your lungs appear black on the film.
X-rays can be performed in your doctor’s office, a hospital, or at specialized imaging centers. Before you have an x-ray, you should tell your doctor if you are pregnant, if you have any allergies to iodine or other contrast substances, or if you have any metal implants in your body (such as an artificial hip or knee, or a pacemaker).
X-rays are a useful tool for helping your doctor identify the causes of your back and neck pain. From spinal stenosis to spondylolisthesis, x-rays can help speed up your diagnosis—and get you on the track to recovery.
- X-Rays. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine Web site. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/xrays.html. Updated September 16, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2012.