What is a spine x-ray?

Spine x-rays are pictures of the bones of the spine that are used to diagnose diseases or to view the extent of an injury to the spine. X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. In an x-ray procedure, a machine sends x-ray radiation through the body or head to create pictures of internal structures projected onto a computer screen or onto film. In those pictures, dense structures, such as bones, show up white because they absorb the x-ray particles, while less-dense structures, such as muscles, show up gray or black.

Spine x-rays can be helpful in diagnosing:
  • osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • abnormal curves of the spine
  • bone spurs
  • fractures
  • cancer
  • infections
  • dislocations
  • disc disease
There are four different types of spine x-rays, depending on which area of the spine is being x-rayed:
  • A cervical spine x-ray is a scan of the seven cervical bones in the neck.
  • A thoracic spine x-ray is a scan of the 12 chest (thoracic) bones.
  • A lumbosacral spine x-ray takes pictures of the five bones of the lower back (lumbar region) and the sacrum at the base of the spine.
  • A sacrum/coccyx x-ray takes a detailed view of the sacrum at the base of the spine and the four bones that make up the tailbone (coccyx).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.