Joint X-Ray

Written by Brian Krans | Published on July 2, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Joint X-Ray?

A joint X-ray takes images of your joints. It is used to detect joint problems.

X-rays use small amounts of radiation to take pictures of bones, organs, and other structures. A joint X-ray can detect fractures, tumors, or other conditions.

X-rays may also be used to monitor diseases or treatments that affect the bones and joints.

A joint X-ray is also known as arthrography.

Why a Joint X-Ray Is Done

Problems within a joint can arise for numerous reasons.

Common sources of joint problems include:

  • arthritis
  • bone tumors
  • degenerative bone diseases
  • inflammation of the joint or bone
  • injury
  • dislocation

An X-ray is one of many imaging tests that can help your doctor find the cause of joint pain.

The Risks of a Joint X-Ray

The amount of radiation produced by an X-ray is minimal. If your doctor thinks you need a joint X-ray, it is pretty certain that the benefits of the test outweigh the risks (NIH ).

It is important to let your doctor know if you are pregnant. X-ray radiation is more dangerous to a fetus than to adults. Your doctor will either recommend another test or find ways to reduce the risk of fetal radiation exposure.

How to Prepare for a Joint X-Ray

Joint X-rays require minimal preparation.

You should remove all jewelry before the test—the metal can make the X-ray images harder to read. Right before the X-ray, you may have to change into a hospital gown if heavy clothing typically covers the joint being X-rayed. An example is your hipbone.

Other than that, no preparation is needed.

How a Joint X-Ray Is Performed

The X-ray will be performed in a specialized testing facility or at a hospital. The X-ray machine has a movable camera attached to a large metal arm. This allows the technician to position it to take pictures of your joint.

The position you are X-rayed in depends on what joint is being examined. The X-ray technician may have you rest your joint on a table or a specialized plate. This plate may contain X-ray film. It may also hold a special sensor that helps record the images on a computer. You’ll be given a special lead bib to cover your genitals.

The procedure is painless. While the images are being taken, you’ll be asked to hold your breath. This keeps you from moving.

After the right images have been captured, the test is complete. It will probably take 20 minutes or less.

Following Up After a Joint X-Ray

X-ray images are usually developed on large sheets of film. When held against a lit background, your doctor can see an array of problems, from tumors to broken bones. In the image, denser materials, such as bone and the muscles of your heart, appear white.

A radiologist will interpret the images for your doctor. Your doctor will go over the results with you at a follow-up appointment.

You may need other imaging tests, such as an MRI, if the X-rays were not conclusive.

Depending on the results of your tests, your doctor will recommend appropriate treatment.

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