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Thoracic spine x-ray

A thoracic spine x-ray is an x-ray of the twelve chest (thoracic) bones (vertebrae). The vertebrae are separated by flat pads of cartilage called disks that provide a cushion between the bones.

Alternative Names

Vertebral radiography; X-ray - spine; Thoracic x-ray; Spine x-ray; Thoracic spine films; Back films

How the Test is Performed

The test is done in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office. You will lie on the x-ray table in different positions. If the x-ray is checking for an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The x-ray machine will be moved over the thoracic area of the spine. You will hold your breath as the picture is taken, so that the picture will not be blurry. Usually two or three x-ray 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

The test causes no discomfort. The table may be cold.

Why the Test is Performed

The x-ray helps evaluate:

  • Bone injuries
  • Cartilage loss
  • Diseases of the bone
  • Tumors of the bone

What Abnormal Results Mean

The test can detect:

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

Risks

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.

Considerations

The x-ray will not detect problems in the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues, because these problems can't be seen well on an x-ray.

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.

Updated: 8/18/2013

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 David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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