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Extremity x-ray

An extremity x-ray is an image of the hands, wrist, feet, or all of these areas. The term "extremity" often refers to a human hand or foot.

X-rays are a form of radiation that pass through the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white. Air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray.

How the test is performed

The test is done in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist.

You will need to hold still as the x-ray is taken. You may be asked to change position, so more x-rays can be taken.

How to prepare for the test

Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry from the area being imaged.

How the test will feel

In general, there is no discomfort. You may be slightly uncomfortable while the hand or foot is put in place for the x-ray.

Why the test is performed

Your health care provider may order this test if you have signs of a fractures , tumors, or degenerative conditions in a hand, foot, or wrist.

Normal Values

The x-ray shows normal structures for the age of the patient.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Bone conditions that get worse over time (degenerative)
  • Broken bone (fracture)
  • Dislocated bone

Other conditions for which the test may be performed:

  • Clubfoot
  • To detect foreign objects in the body

What the risks are

There is low-level 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 an x-ray.

References

Clement J. Basic imaging techniques. In: DeLee JC, Drez DJr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 13.

Updated: 10/14/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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