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Neck x-ray

A neck x-ray is an imaging test to look at cervical vertebrae, the seven bones in the neck area.

Alternative Names

X-ray - neck; Cervical spine x-ray; Lateral neck x-ray

How the test is performed

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

You will lie on the x-ray table. If the x-ray is being done to check for injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The x-ray machine will be moved over your neck area. You will be asked to hold your breath while the picture is taken, so that the picture will not be blurry.

You will be asked to change positions so that more scans can be taken. Usually three to seven different views are needed.

How to prepare for the test

Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

How the test will feel

This test does not cause discomfort, but the table may be cold.

Why the test is performed

The x-ray is used to evaluate neck injuries and numbness, pain, or weakness that does not go away. A neck x-ray can also be used to help see if air passages are blocked by swelling in the neck or something stuck in the airway.

What abnormal results mean

The test can detect:

  • Bone spurs
  • Deformities in the spine
  • Disk problems
  • Dislocations
  • Thinning of the bone (osteoporosis )
  • Wearing away of the vertebrae

The test may also be performed for:

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 x-rays.

Special considerations

Other tests, such as MRI, may be used to look for disk or nerve problems.

References

Stevens JM, Rich PM, Dixon AK. The spine. In: Grainger RC, Allison D, Adam, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 60.

Roosevelt GE. Acute inflammatory upper airway obstruction (croup, epiglottitis, laryngitis, and bacterial tracheitis). In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 337.

Updated: 8/15/2011

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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