An x-ray scan, also called radiography, is a diagnostic imaging technique that produces images of bones, providing clear detail of the bony structure. Some other imaging techniques also use x-rays to show the bones in even greater detail, such as CT scans, but they are also more expensive and involve more radiation exposure.

How an X-Ray Scan Works

To produce an image, an x-ray machine shoots an x-ray beam through the body. The beam passes through soft tissue but not through bones, due to their calcium density. The beam that passes through then interacts with film, which results in an image of the bones. The darker and lighter areas on an x-ray image correlate to how much radiation was absorbed by the tissues rather than passing through to the film.

When an X-Ray Is Considered

X-rays can be used to diagnose fractures, tumors, and structural instability/misalignment. Less-dense body parts, such as discs and nerve roots, are not captured by an x-ray image. An x-ray cannot be used to diagnose, for example, a lumbar disc herniation or other causes of nerve compression.

X-ray scans are commonly used and considered relatively safe. However, due to the risks associated with radiation exposure, they are usually not recommended for women who are pregnant.