Extremity X-Ray

Written by Heather Ross | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is an Extremity X-Ray?

An extremity X-ray is an X-ray image taken of your extremities (your arms, legs, hands, wrists, feet, ankles, shoulders, knees, or hips). An X-ray is a form of radiation that passes through your body and exposes a piece of film, forming an image of your body.

Dense structures, like bones, appear white on X-rays because very little radiation can pass through them to expose the film on the other side. Soft tissues, such as blood vessels, skin, fat, and muscles, are less dense, so more radiation can pass through them. These structures will appear dark gray on the X-ray image.

Why Is an Extremity X-Ray Performed?

Your doctor may request an extremity X-ray to check for the following conditions:

  • fractured or broken bones
  • infections
  • arthritis
  • bone tumors
  • dislocations (joints that are pushed out of their normal positions)
  • swelling
  • fluid buildup on the joint
  • bone deformities

You may also need an extremity X-ray to make sure an injury, such as a broken arm, is healing properly.

What Are the Risks of an Extremity X-Ray?

X-rays are very safe and generally produce no side effects or complications. The amount of radiation used in a single X-ray is quite small, but if you have many X-rays, your risk of illness from radiation exposure can increase.

Children and unborn babies are especially sensitive to radiation, so tell your doctor if you are pregnant so that precautions can be taken during the procedure. If you are pregnant and must have an extremity X-ray, you will be given a lead vest to cover your abdomen to keep radiation from harming your fetus.

How Is an Extremity X-Ray Performed? | How It’s Done

The test will be performed in a hospital radiology department or your doctor’s office by a radiology technologist. You will be asked to remove any clothing and jewelry on the part of your body that will be X-rayed. You will be positioned so that the body part that needs to be X-rayed is lying flat on the X-ray table. You must be very still and hold your breath for a few moments while the image is taken so that it won’t be blurry. The procedure is quick and painless.

What Do the Test Results Mean?

The radiology technologist will develop the X-ray films and send them to your doctor within a few days. If your bones and tissues appear normal on the X-ray images, you probably do not have broken bones, tumors, arthritis, etc. If any of these abnormalities appear on your X-rays, your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.

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