Everything You Need to Know About X-Rays for Back Pain | BEST

If you’ve turned to a physician for help with your back pain, it is likely that your pain has progressed to the point where it interferes with your daily life. It is your doctor’s top priority to find the cause of your pain and other symptoms so that they can recommend an appropriate course of treatment that will help you reclaim your life from back pain. To do this, your physician will likely start by listening to you describe your medical history, conducting a physical exam and ordering any number of diagnostic tests. 

A spinal X-Ray may be recommended as part of the diagnostic process, as it is one of the most common imaging tests that can reveal several different problems within the spine. However, many back problems go away on their own, so depending on the severity of your pain and the amount of time your symptoms have been present, your physician may recommend that you delay diagnostic imaging and allow your body a bit of time to heal. 

How do Spinal X-Rays Work?

X-Rays send powerful beams of energy called photons through the air and into the body. When these photons come into contact with different parts of the body, they are absorbed in various amounts depending on the density of the tissues. For example, photons pass through soft tissues but are absorbed by dense tissues, such as bones. On an X-Ray image, tissues that have not absorbed the radiation show up as black, while tissues that have absorbed the radiation show up as white. The images produced by X-Rays are known as radiographs. 

What can an X-Ray Diagnose?

Generally speaking, X-Rays are used to capture images of a person’s organs and bones to diagnose a range of conditions and injuries. An X-Ray for back pain may be useful if your physician suspects that you might have:

  • A Fracture. A fracture is any loss of continuity in a bone. Some fractures are barely recognizable on an X-Ray, such as a hairline fracture. 
  • A Broken Bone. Similar to a fracture, a broken bone describes a bone in the body that has lost its integrity. 
  • Arthritis. Arthritis is a condition where a joint’s cartilage, which typically lines the joint and allows the bones to glide over one another painlessly, wears away, resulting in painful bone-on-bone contact. 
  • Bone Spurs. An X-Ray can also detect bone spurs – or excess growths of bone – on the vertebrae. 
  • Spondylilolisthesis. This is a spine condition where one vertebrae in the spine slips forward over the vertebrae below it. 
  • Degenerative Disc Disease. Also known as DDD, degenerative disc disease is the ongoing deterioration of the spine’s discs due to age-related changes in the spine. 
  • Kyphosis. An abnormal, exaggerated convex curvature of the spine. It can occur at any age but is most often found in older women. 
  • Scoliosis. A sideways curvature of the spine that is most often found in children. 

What Spinal Conditions Can’t be Seen with an X-Ray?

X-Rays are not capable of showing damage to the nerves or soft tissues. Some examples of conditions that an X-Ray likely can’t diagnose include:

  • Pinched Spinal Nerve. A pinched nerve that has become compressed by something else in the body, usually bone or a disc in the spine. 
  • Ruptured Disc.  A ruptured disc that has a tear in its outer layer, allowing the gel-like inner core material to leak out of the disc and into the spinal column. 
  • Bulging Disc. A bulging disc has a weakened annulus fibrosus, so pressure from the nucleus pulposus causes the disc to protrude into the spinal column. 
  • Sciatica. This term describes a set of symptoms that occur when the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the body that runs from the lower back down each leg, becomes compressed. 

What are Some Other Diagnostic Tools Besides an X-Ray?

If your physician suspects you may have one of these conditions or another condition affecting the soft tissue, they might recommend a different diagnostic test instead of an X-Ray. For example, your physician may suggest a:

  • CT scan
  • Diagnostic injection

What Happens During an X-Ray?

To get X-Rays taken, your doctor must order them, meaning you can’t simply walk into an imaging office and request an X-Ray. Getting an X-Ray taken is a quick and painless procedure that doesn’t take more than a few minutes. You will be given a lead sheet to cover the part of the body that is not being X-Rayed to prevent unnecessary exposure to the radiation. Then, the X-Ray technician will position you to get the best view of your neck or back, and you will be asked to remain as still as possible during the duration of the imaging.  

BEST Health System

If you are interested in learning more about possible treatment options for your back pain, contact BESTHealth System today and get started on your path to recovery. The BEST is yet to come.