Let’s be frank: we all know that the imaging part of a diagnosis is the coolest part. Getting to see the inside of your arm is almost awesome enough to make you forget about how much that broken radial bone hurts. It’s also one of the most critical parts, because it allows your doctor a noninvasive method of seeing exactly what’s going on internally.
There are a few different kinds of imaging–MRI, CT Scans, Ultrasounds, PET scans, and “X-rays”. All of them are used to see inside the body, but serve different purposes and use different methods for imagining. An MRI, for example, provides a super-detailed picture of tissue, bones, and organs using radio waves, while an Ultrasound uses sound waves to see organs. Your doctor will decide which imaging method is best for you based on your symptoms.
“X-rays” are one of the more commonly known imaging methods. These produce those black and white pictures of bones that doctors–in all those old TV shows–snap into a light board and show you where the bone has fractured. So what is it, exactly, and how does it work?
First, a fun fact: the procedure which uses x-rays is not actually called an “x-ray.” The correct term is radiograph! Radiographs are an imaging technique that use x-rays to see the musculoskeletal form.
X-rays are electromagnetic rays–a type of radiation. Sounds scary, but we promise this method is safe! Radiographs are often kept in separate rooms, and only the patient being radiographed is present in the space during the scan. They use the lowest possible x-ray exposure only on the part of the body required, and the rest of your body is covered with a protective lead apron; lead acts as a radiation shield.
When you’re being radiographed, an x-ray beam is sent through the body. A portion of the x-rays are absorbed or scattered by the internal structure–bones, muscles, dense tissue, etc–and the remaining x-ray pattern is transmitted to a detector. That pattern creates an image of the internal structure, which is recorded either on film or in a computer system.
It’s like a pinhole camera picture: what appears in white on a radiograph image are all the places where the x-rays couldn’t penetrate, in the same way that what appears in white on the film of a pinhole camera are the objects light couldn’t penetrate. This is why radiographs are great for seeing injured bones, because they’re so dense they appear clearly and aren’t often muddled by the other details of soft tissue.
Radiographs are also one of the fastest imaging methods. Chances are you’ve had radiographs taken at the dentist, so you know how quickly that process goes! With radiographs, we can quickly see what’s going on with the bones and joints, diagnose the injury, and get you started on the path to healing.
At Sideline Orthopedics, we have in-house imaging capabilities, so you can come to us first at any sign of injury. With both appointments and walk-in hours, and three convenient locations, we’re ready to take care of you no matter where you are. And now that you know a little bit more about radiographs, you can wow us with your knowledge the next time you come to see us!