What Is An X-ray And Do I Need One? — RecoverFit
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What Is An X-ray And Do I Need One?

What Is An X-ray And Do I Need One?

X-rays are a type of imaging test that use radiation to produce images of the inside of the body. They are commonly used to diagnose and monitor musculoskeletal injuries, as they can provide detailed images of bones. 

In addition to musculoskeletal injuries, X-rays can be used to diagnose and monitor conditions such as: dental problems, chest and lung conditions, digestive tract issues, heart issues, joint conditions, foreign object detection, along with Monitoring medical treatments.


How does it work?

The X-ray machine generates a beam of electromagnetic radiation that is directed towards the patient. This passes through the patient's body and is absorbed to varying degrees by different tissues. 

  • Dense tissues, such as bone, absorb more radiation and appear as white on the image. 
  • Less dense tissues, such as muscle and fat, absorb less radiation, appearing as shades of grey. 
  • Air and other low-density substances absorb very little radiation, appearing  as black on the image. 
  • The image generated shows the pattern of radiation absorption and this is interpreted by a radiologist. It is painless and takes only a few minutes for the whole process. 

How do I know if I need one?

Pain: Fractures typically cause significant pain, which may be sharp, dull, or throbbing. The pain may be worse with movement or weight-bearing.

Swelling: Fractures will usually cause swelling around the affected area. The swelling may be significant, causing a feeling of firmness in the area, be tender to the touch and feel warm.

Bruising: Fractures typically will cause bruising around the affected area, this tends to develop within the first 24-72hrs. In the hands and feet, if bruising appears in the palm or sole this could signify a fracture.

Deformity: If the fracture is severe, it may cause a visible deformity in the affected area, such as a visible bump, angle, or bend.

Limited mobility: Fractures can limit your ability to move the affected area. You may find it difficult or impossible to put weight on the affected limb. In the lower limb this would mean walking and in the hand or upper limb this may mean trying to lift your arm, or put weight through your hand in a plank position for example. 

Snap or pop: Some fractures may be accompanied by a snap or popping sound at the time of injury and is often a question health care practitioners will ask when trying to determine if an X-ray is necessary. 


While X-rays are a useful diagnostic tool, they do expose the body to a small amount of ionising radiation, which can be harmful with repeated exposure. As a result, X-rays will be   used judiciously and only when necessary.

It's also worth noting that while X-rays can provide detailed images of bones, they are not able to detect soft tissue injuries, such as ligament or tendon damage. In these cases, additional imaging tests, such as MRI or ultrasound, may be used if indicated. 

It's important to work with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate diagnostic and monitoring techniques for a given condition.

Previous article Bones: What are they?

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This article has been written by Adey, 
RecoverFit Physiotherapist.

Adey Saunderson 

BSc MCs MHCPC MCSP

Having worked in professional sport for over 10 years, which included the Rugby Premership and The English Football League, Adey has a wealth of experience with dealing with injury and rehabilitation in the sports world. His desire, commitment, people skills and knowledge are why he has a great reputation in the clubs and teams he has been involved with. Alongside working for RecoverFit, Adey also works in the military as a physiotherapist. 

DISCLAIMER: The content provided in these articles is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. The advice and tips shared in these articles are not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in these articles. The author and publisher of this blog are not responsible for any adverse effects or consequences resulting from the use of any suggestions, recommendations, or procedures described in these articles.