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Thoracic Spine X-ray

Definition

A thoracic spine x-ray is an x-ray of the twelve chest (thoracic) vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated by flat pads of cartilage that cushion them.

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 and will be asked to lay in different positions. If the x-ray is to determine an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The x-ray machine will be positioned 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 2 or 3 x-ray views are needed.

How to prepare for the test

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

How the test will feel

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

Why the test is performed

The x-ray helps evaluate bone injuries, disease of the bone, tumors of the bone, or cartilage loss.

What abnormal results mean

The abnormalities the test will pick up include fractures, dislocations, thinning of the bone (osteoporosis), and deformities in the curvature of the spine. The test may also detect bone spurs, disk narrowing, and degeneration of the vertebrae.

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 the x-ray.

Special considerations

The x-ray will not detect problems in the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues, because they 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.

Review Date: 8/8/2009

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Information developed by A.D.A.M., Inc. regarding tests and test results may not directly correspond with information provided by UCSF Medical Center. Please discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.