Gimme Five: Hand X-Rays

Written by Erica Roth | Published on July 18, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

A hand X-ray is a black and white image that shows the inner structures of your hand, such as bones and soft tissues. This diagnostic tool can help your doctor locate and understand injuries or degenerative diseases that affect one or both hands.

Hand X-rays can also play a role in ensuring proper bone growth. Nutritional deficiencies and metabolic disorders can sometimes mean you don’t grow as much as you could, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Hand X-rays can monitor these conditions.

X-rays are taken using radiation. A technician in the radiology department at a hospital or other medical facility usually performs X-rays.

Preparing for a Hand X-Ray

Hand X-rays do not require special preparation. If you are wearing rings, bracelets, or a watch, you’ll be asked to remove them. This will make it easier for the technician to manipulate your hand into the right position for the pictures. The absence of jewelry also helps the radiologist read the X-rays without mistaking jewelry for bone fractures, for example.

Swelling from a hand injury could prevent you from removing your jewelry. The outline of the accessories will be visible on the X-ray, but won’t interfere with the test itself.

Notify the technician if you are pregnant, or think you may be pregnant. Although it’s slight, there is a risk of damage to the fetus through radiation exposure. As a precaution, women and children are usually draped with an apron lined with lead to protect the reproductive organs and developing fetuses.

Hand X-Ray Procedure

You will be asked to place your hand on an examination table. Keep as still as possible while the pictures are being taken. The technician may move your hand into different positions to take a series of X-rays.

The X-rays themselves are not painful. However, X-rays are used to diagnose conditions like bone fractures, tumors, and arthritis. These conditions can create pain during the X-ray in some cases.

Hand X-Ray Results

The results of a hand X-ray can be immediate in cases of emergency, such as a broken wrist. Many modern X-ray machines display the images on a computer screen as soon as the pictures are taken. Dense objects, like bones or jewelry, will show up white on the X-ray film. Soft tissues will appear gray, while air, such as the spaces in between your joints, will appear black.

X-rays that are taken to establish growth patterns or other issues that are not time-sensitive are usually read within one to two days. Your doctor generally notifies you with hand X-ray results.

Radiation Risks

The risks of radiation exposure during a hand X-ray are very minimal. You are exposed to radiation for only about a second during an X-ray. Researchers believe that the benefit of being able to diagnose injuries and disease clearly outweighs the brief exposure.

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