A hip X-ray is a test that produces an image of the anatomy of your hip. Your healthcare provider may use hip X-rays to diagnose and treat health conditions involving your hips. Hip X-rays are quick, easy and painless procedures. You will lay face up on an X-ray table, and a radiologic technologist will take multiple pictures of your hips.
A hip X-ray (radiograph) is a medical imaging test that creates a picture of your hip joints and pelvic bones. The picture shows the inner structure (anatomy) of your hips in black and white. Calcium in your bones takes in more radiation, so your bones appear white on the X-ray. Soft tissues take in less radiation, so they appear different shades of gray. Healthcare providers use hip X-rays to diagnose and treat medical conditions that affect your hips.
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X-rays use a special type of radiation called electromagnetic waves. These electromagnetic waves send beams of radiation through your body to produce an image of the inside of your body. X-rays are the oldest and most commonly used type of medical imaging in healthcare.
Healthcare providers can use hip X-rays to find the possible cause of limping or any pain, swelling or tenderness in your hips. They can use hip X-rays to diagnose health and medical conditions involving your hips. These conditions may include:
In addition, if you need a hip replacement, your healthcare provider may want X-rays before the procedure. They’ll also want you to go in for routine follow-up X-rays afterward to monitor your condition.
A radiologic technologist, also known as an X-ray technician, will perform your hip X-ray. These specially trained healthcare providers learn about patient care, radiation exposure, radiation protection, radiographic positioning and radiographic procedures.
X-rays send small beams of radiation through your body. These beams of radiation create an image on special photographic film or a digital platform.
Because your body parts vary in thickness, they take in different amounts of radiation. Bones and other dense matter show up white on X-rays. Less dense areas such as skin, muscle and tissue allow radiation to pass through, so they look darker on X-rays.
Hip X-rays don’t require much preparation. You should wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t contain any metal. You’ll be asked to remove any clothing, jewelry, belts or other objects containing metal because they may show up on the X-rays.
If you’re pregnant, tell your radiologic technologist. Hip X-rays use a very small amount of radiation, but there’s a chance your growing baby (fetus) could be exposed to it. Precautions will be taken to lessen radiation exposure to your baby.
Before your X-ray, your technologist will explain how the X-ray will work. If you have any questions about the procedure, your technologist will answer them for you.
Your hip X-ray will be performed by a radiologic technologist in your healthcare provider’s office or a hospital radiology department. The X-ray room will contain a table with an X-ray machine suspended from the ceiling. Once in the X-ray room, your technologist may give you a lead apron to wear to protect you from radiation exposure. An X-ray is like getting a picture of your hip taken — you can’t feel it, and it creates an image. The procedure may take 10 minutes or more.
Your technologist will place a digital recording plate under the X-ray table. They’ll have you lie down on your back on the table. You’ll need to keep very still during the procedure. Any movement can cause the X-ray images to show up blurry. The technologist may ask you to hold your breath while they’re taking the images.
Your technologist will go into a small room or behind a wall to operate the X-ray machine. They’ll return to reposition you for additional images.
A normal hip X-ray includes at least two different images. Your technologist will take one image with your legs straight (anteroposterior view) and one image with your knees apart and feet together (frog-leg view).
After your hip X-ray, your radiologic technologist will make sure none of the X-ray images came out blurry. If any images need to be retaken, they’ll redo them while you’re still there.
After that, a doctor called a radiologist will study the X-ray images. Radiologists have special training in analyzing and understanding X-rays. Once the radiologist has looked over the results, they’ll send a report to your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will read the results, discuss them with you and recommended treatment options.
Sometimes your healthcare provider will need more images. You may have to return for follow-up X-rays. They’ll use these extra images to help make a correct diagnosis. You may also have to come back for follow-up to track your condition and watch for any changes that occur over time.
Hip X-rays are an easy, painless way for your healthcare provider to diagnose a health condition involving your hips. Hip X-rays contain very small amounts of radiation that go directly through your body. Also, X-rays normally don’t cause any side effects.
If you’re pregnant, your growing baby could be exposed to the minor amount of radiation. Tell your radiologic technologist if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. You may be given a lead apron to wear to protect yourself and your baby from radiation exposure. Children also have a slightly higher risk of issues with radiation exposure. Lower amounts may be used on children.
High amounts of radiation exposure carries a small risk of cancer. However, the benefit of getting the correct diagnosis outweighs any risk of exposure. If you’re concerned about the amount of radiation you may be exposed to during an X-ray, talk to your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider may be able to receive immediate results if your hip X-ray was performed due to an emergency. Otherwise, your radiologist will have the results ready in one to two days. Your radiologist will send the results to your healthcare provider. Then, your healthcare provider will discuss the findings with you and discuss treatment.
Hip impingement can trap your hip labrum, the cartilage that circles the socket part of the hip joint. While hip impingement can show up on an X-ray, most X-rays don’t clearly and accurately show your soft tissues such as cartilage. To diagnose a hip labral tear, your healthcare provider will order a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. However, many healthcare providers will request X-rays first to make sure they’re making the correct diagnosis.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have pain, swelling or tenderness in or around your hips, your healthcare provider may order a hip X-ray. Hip X-rays can show signs of everything from fractures to infections to arthritis. Hip X-rays are fast, easy procedures that will help your healthcare provider diagnose you properly. And the quicker you’re diagnosed, the sooner you’ll be on your way to treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2022.
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