An extremity x-ray is an image of the hands, wrist, feet, or all of these areas. The term "extremity" often refers to a human hand or foot.
X-rays are a form of radiation that passo into the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white. Air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray.
The test is performed in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist. You will be asked to place the specific area being x-rayed (such as your hand, wrist, or foot) on the table.
You will need to hold still as the x-ray is taken. You may be asked to change position, so more x-rays can be taken.
How to prepare for the test
Tell the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry from the area being imaged.
How the test will feel
In general, there is no discomfort. You may be slightly uncomfortable while the hand or foot is put in place for the x-ray.
Why the test is performed
Your doctor may order this test if you have signs of a fractures, tumors, or degenerative conditions in a hand, foot, or wrist.
The x-ray shows normal structures for the age of the patient.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results may be due to:
Bone conditions that get worse over time (degenerative)
There is low-level 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 an x-ray.
Rogers LF, Taljanovic MS, Boles CA. Skeletal trauma. In: Grainger RC, Allison D, Adam, Dixon AK, eds. Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 46.
Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.