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Thoracic spine x-ray

Definition

A thoracic spine x-ray is an x-ray of the 12 chest (thoracic) bones (vertebrae). The vertebrae are separated by flat pads of cartilage called disks that provide a cushion between the bones.

Alternative Names

Vertebral radiography; X-ray - spine; Thoracic x-ray; Spine x-ray; Thoracic spine films; Back films

How the Test is Performed

The test is done in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office. You will lie on the x-ray table in different positions. If the x-ray is checking for an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The x-ray machine will be moved over the thoracic area of the spine. You will hold your breath as the picture is taken, so that the picture will not be blurry. Usually 2 or 3 x-ray views are needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell the provider if you are pregnant. Also tell the provider if you have had surgery in your chest, abdomen, or pelvis.

Remove all jewelry.

How the Test will Feel

The test causes no discomfort. The table may be cold.

Why the Test is Performed

The x-ray helps evaluate:

  • Bone injuries
  • Cartilage loss
  • Diseases of the bone
  • Tumors of the bone

What Abnormal Results Mean

The test can detect:

  • Bone spurs
  • Deformities of the spine
  • Disk narrowing
  • Dislocations
  • Fractures
  • Thinning of the bone (osteoporosis)
  • Wearing away (degeneration) of the vertebrae

Risks

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.

Considerations

The x-ray will not detect problems in the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues, because these problems cannot be seen well on an x-ray.

References

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Radiography of skull, chest, and cervical spine – diagnostic. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:953-954.

Van Thielen T, van den Hauwe L, Van Goethem JW, Parizel PM. Imaging techniques and anatomy. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 54.

Review Date:9/7/2017
Reviewed By:C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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Health Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

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