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Neck x-ray

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

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Definition

A neck x-ray is an imaging test to look at cervical vertebrae. These are the 7 bones of the spine in the neck.

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 2, or up to 7 different images may be needed.

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.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell the provider if you are or think you may be pregnant. Also tell your provider if you have had surgery or have implants around your neck, jaw, or mouth.

Remove all jewelry.

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.

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

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.

Review Date: 9/7/2017
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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