Skeleton X-Ray: Purpose, Procedure, and Risks
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Skeleton X-Ray

What Is a Skeletal X-Ray?

A skeletal X-ray is a type of X-ray that specifically looks at your skeleton. Your skeleton is made up of all the bones in your body

An X-ray is a common imaging test that allows doctors to view the inside of your body without having to make an incision. X-rays are waves of electromagnetic radiation that are absorbed differently by different tissues. Bones absorb the electromagnetic radiation well because they are dense.

A skeletal X-ray is an incredibly useful tool for your doctor when evaluating your bones. This type of X-ray has revolutionized the diagnosis of skeletal injuries.

Typical Uses of a Skeletal X-Ray

purpose

The skeleton is the frame of the body. It protects our internal organs and allows us to move around. All muscles are attached to the skeleton by ligaments or tendons. When the skeleton is damaged, this support is no longer effectively provided and could cause serious health concerns.

Traditional skeletal X-rays can help your doctor identify any damage from a traumatic fall or accident, monitor the progression of a disease, or track the effects of certain treatment methods.

Skeletal X-rays are often done on an emergency basis after a trauma, such as a fall or accident. Your doctor will order an X-ray in any area that is causing extreme pain in order to determine whether you have one or more broken bones.

Your doctor may order a skeletal X-ray if you show any signs or symptoms of conditions that affect the bones, such as pain or swelling. These include:

  • arthritis
  • bone cancer
  • cancer that has spread to the bone
  • fractures
  • infections
  • osteoporosis
  • dental conditions

The Risks of a Skeletal X-Ray

Risk Factors

X-rays use small amounts of radiation. The level of exposure is considered safe for adults. Modern X-ray methods minimize the risk of exposure to radiation and the risk of damage is very low. However, for a developing fetus, radiation needs to be minimized. This is one reason why precautions are taken to shield the abdomen and pelvis with a special lead blanket during an X-ray. If you require an X-ray and you are pregnant (or think you may be pregnant), be sure to tell your doctor before the procedure.

Most X-rays are quick and painless. If you’re having an X-ray due to a traumatic event that caused pain and possibly a broken bone or fracture, you may experience additional pain during the X-ray. The test requires you to adjust your body so the technician can capture clear images. This may cause you discomfort. If you’re worried, you can ask your doctor for pain medicine prior to your X-ray.

How to Prepare for a Skeletal X-Ray

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X-rays are standard procedure. You don't have to do much to prepare for one. 

Depending on the area under review, you may want to wear loose, comfortable clothing so that it’s easy to move around. You may need to change into a hospital gown for the test. You'll wear a lead apron to protect your reproductive organs.

You’ll be asked to take off any jewelry, eyeglasses, piercing, or other metallic items from your body before the X-ray. You should always tell your doctor if you have any metal implants from prior surgeries, such as a heart valve or pacemaker.

In some instances, your doctor may have chosen to order an X-ray because you have metal implanted in your body. Other scans, such as an MRI, can be risky for people with metal implants.

How a Skeletal X-Ray Is Performed

process

Skeletal X-rays are performed in a hospital’s radiology department or a clinic that specializes in diagnostic procedures. An X-ray technician will ask you to get in a certain position in order to get the right view.

The technician will most likely need you to lie, sit, or stand in several different positions during the test. For some images, you may need to stand in front of a specialized plate that contains X-ray film or sensors.

Depending on the area under review, the technician will move a large camera connected to a steel arm over your body. This can capture the X-ray images of your bones using film or sensors held in the table.

While the images are being taken, you’ll have to hold your breath and remain still. This provides the clearest images possible.

The test is finished as soon as your X-ray technician and radiologist are satisfied with the images gathered.

Following Up After a Skeletal X-Ray

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After the test, you can change back into your regular clothes and go about your normal activities right away.

Your radiologist and doctor will review the X-rays and discuss your condition. Results from your X-ray may be available the same day.

Your doctor will view the X-rays and the radiologist’s report, and determine how to proceed. They may order additional imaging scans, blood tests, or other diagnostic measures to help you get an accurate diagnosis. Once your doctor figures out exactly what's wrong, you can begin treatment.

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