What are X-Rays?

Medical X-rays pass small amounts of radiation through the body and into a special device to create images of structures within the body. Different tissues within the body absorb different levels of x-ray radiation depending on their density — bones, for example, appear white on an x-ray because they easily absorb the radiation of an x-ray and produce a high contrast on the final image. Fat, soft tissues, and empty spaces in the body show up as shades of grey on an x-ray because the radiation passes more easily through them. For this reason, x-rays are commonly used when diagnosing bone fractures or abnormalities or locating foreign materials in the body.

What are X-rays used for?

X-rays can be used for:

  • Detecting and diagnosing bone fractures: an x-ray is usually the method of choice for diagnosing bone breaks or fractures. Because of their high contrast on an x-ray, bones are very easily seen in high detail and so accurate diagnoses can be quickly made.
  • Tracking bone healing after a fracture: after almost every orthopedic surgery, patients will have periodic recheck x-rays to ensure that everything is healing properly. If a patient had hardware such as plates or screws installed, x-rays are used to ensure that this hardware remains in alignment during the healing process
  • Locating foreign materials in the body: x-rays can be used to locate foreign bodies or materials within the body. This can include items that were mistakenly ingested, such as children’s toys, as well as medical hardware that may be out of place, such as birth control implants.