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Neck x-ray

A neck x-ray is an imaging test to look at cervical vertebrae. These are the seven bones of the spine in the neck.

Alternative Names

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

How the Test is Performed

This test is done in a hospital radiology department. It may also be done in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist.

You will lie on the x-ray table.

You will be asked to change positions so that more images can be taken. Usually two, or up to seven different images may be needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell the health care provider if you are or think you may be pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

How the Test will Feel

When the x-rays are taken, there is no discomfort. If the x-rays are done to check for injury, there may be discomfort as your neck is being positioned. Care will be taken to prevent further injury.

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.

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

What Abnormal Results Mean

A neck x-ray can detect:

  • Bone joint that is out of position (dislocation)
  • Breathing in a foreign object
  • Broken bone (fracture)
  • Disk problems (disks are the cushion-like tissue that separate the vertebrae)
  • Extra bone growths (bone spurs) on the neck bones (for example due to osteoarthritis)
  • Infection that causes swelling of the vocal cords (croup)
  • Inflammation of the tissue that covers the windpipe (epiglottitis)
  • Problem with the curve of the upper spine such as kyphosis
  • Thinning of the bone (osteoporosis)
  • Wearing away of the neck vertebrae or cartilage

Risks

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored so that the lowest amount of radiation is used to produce the image.

Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of x-rays.

References

Stevens JM, Rich PM, Dixon AK. The spine. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Grainger RG, et al., eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier 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: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 337.

Updated: 8/26/2013

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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