Lumbosacral spine X-ray

Alternative names
X-ray - lumbosacral spine; Myelography

Definition

An X-ray of the lumbosacral spine involves capturing images of the 5 lumbar vertebrae and the 5 small fused vertebrae (sacrum).

How the test is performed

The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider’s office by an X-ray technician. You will be asked to lie on the X-ray table and assume various positions. If the X-ray is to determine injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The X-ray machine will be positioned over the lumbosacral area of the spine. You will be asked to hold your breath as the picture is taken so that the picture will not be blurry. Usually 3 to 5 pictures are taken.

A myelogram is an X-ray or CT scan of the spine that is performed after dye has been injected into the spinal fluid. (See lumbar puncture.)

How to prepare for the test

Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

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 experiences, 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
There is generally no discomfort associated with an X-ray, although the table may be cold.

Why the test is performed
Lumbosacral spine X-ray helps evaluate back injuries and persistent numbness, low back pain, or weakness.

What abnormal results mean
The test will detect abnormalities such as fractures, dislocations, osteoporosis, and deformities in the curvature of the spine. The test may also detect bone spurs, disk problems such as herniated disk, and degeneration of the vertebrae.

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 X-rays.

Special considerations
There are a number of back problems that an X-ray will not detect because they involve the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues. A lumbosacral spine CT or lumbosacral spine MRI are better options for soft tissue disorders.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by Potos A. Aagen, M.D.

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