How do I prepare for a spine X-ray?

There is no special preparation for a spine X-ray. It is important to tell the technologist if you are or may be pregnant. X-rays generally are not used on pregnant women because of the possible risk of radiation exposure to the developing baby. Also, please notify the technologist if you have an insulin pump.

Before the test begins, you will be asked to remove your clothing and put on a hospital gown. You also will be asked to remove all jewelry and any other objects containing metal (such as eyeglasses and hair pins). This is done because metal can block the image and interfere with the test results.

What happens during the spine X-ray?

The technologist will position your body against the X-ray film in a way that produces the clearest image. Most X-rays of the upper or lower spine are taken while you are lying on the X-ray table, although sometimes they are taken while you are standing. The technologist may ask you to change positions or move your arms. You may be asked to open your mouth for an X-ray of your neck. This position moves your teeth out of the way and enables the technologist to get a clearer image of the upper bones of your neck.

The technologist will ask you to be very still and hold your breath while the X-rays are passed through your body. (This only takes a few seconds.) It is necessary to hold your breath because movement that occurs when you breathe in and out can blur the X-ray image.

What happens after the test?

After the X-rays are taken, the technologist will process the images. You may be asked to wait a few minutes while the technologist makes sure the X-rays are acceptable; for example, to be sure they are not blurred. If necessary, you may be asked to repeat the test to obtain a clearer image.

The report of your spine X-ray will be sent to your doctor, who will discuss the results with you. In non-emergency cases, results usually are available within a day or 2.

What will I feel during the test?

A spine X-ray is painless. You will not feel the radiation as it passes through your body. The X-ray room may be cool, because air conditioning is used to keep the equipment at a constant temperature.

What are the risks of a spine X-ray?

In general, spine X-rays are very safe and unlikely to produce side effects.

The amount of radiation used is very small, so the risks are minimal. Young children and a developing fetus carried by a pregnant woman are more sensitive to X-rays and are at higher risk for tissue damage.

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