Extremity X-ray

Definition

X-rays of the extremities, such as the hand, wrist, foot, of ankle, are images of internal structures. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation like light, but of higher energy, so they can penetrate the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white, air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray. (See also bone X-ray.)

How the test is performed
Extremity X-rays are performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider’s office by an X-ray technician. You will be asked to position the extremity to be X-rayed on the table. The pictures are then taken, usually with repositioning of the extremity for different views.

How to prepare for the test

Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry from the area being imaged.

Infants and children:
The physical and psychological preparation you can provide for this or any test or procedure depends on your child’s age, interests, previous experience, and level of trust. For specific information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics as they correspond to your child’s age:

     
  • Infant test or procedure preparation (birth to 1 year)  
  • Toddler test or procedure preparation (1 to 3 years)  
  • Preschooler test or procedure preparation (3 to 6 years)  
  • Schoolage test or procedure preparation (6 to 12 years)  
  • Adolescent test or procedure preparation (12 to 18 years)

How the test will feel
In general, there is no discomfort, although you may be slightly uncomfortable while the extremity is positioned for the X-ray.

Why the test is performed
Extremity X-ray is used to detect fractures, tumors, or degenerative conditions of the extremity.

Normal Values
The X-ray shows normal structures for the age of the patient.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results include fractures, dislocations, bone tumors, degenerative bone conditions, and osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone caused by an infection).

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

     
  • Clubfoot  
  • Foreign body detection

What the risks are

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of an X-ray.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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