Thoracic spine X-ray

Alternative names
Vertebral radiography; X-ray - spine; Thoracic X-ray; Spine X-ray; Thoracic spine films; Back films

A thoracic spine X-ray is an X-ray of the 12 chest (thoracic) vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by flat pads of cartilage which cushion them.

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 an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The X-ray machine will be positioned over the thoracic 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 two or three views are needed.

How to prepare for the test
Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

How the test will feel
There is no discomfort. The table may be cold.

Why the test is performed
The X-ray helps evaluate bone injuries, disease of the bone, tumors of the bone, or cartilage loss.

What abnormal results mean
The abnormalities the test will pick up include fractures, dislocations, thinning of the bone (osteoporosis), and deformities in the curvature of the spine. The test may also detect bone spurs, disc narrowing, 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 the X-ray.

Special considerations

The X-ray will not detect a number of back problems because these problems involve the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues, which can’t be seen well on an X-ray.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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