An x-ray is a basic but very important diagnostic tool. X-rays are most effective at visualizing bone, but dense soft tissue structures can also be viewed.
X-rays do not penetrate most metallic structures. X-rays can be used to identify fractures, evidence of tumors, evidence of infection and degenerative change. Since a back x-ray may visualize the results of degenerative change in the spine and other areas, surgeons may require multiple back x-rays both before and after surgery.
After surgery, they can view the position of implanted devices and its relationship to the surrounding bony structures. Back x-rays can also give information about the progress of healing after fusion surgery. The amount of radiation the patient is exposed to during diagnostic x-rays is very small.
A back x-ray is usually the first type of imaging used for patients with back or neck pain. Generally, x-rays are not needed until symptoms have persisted for at least four weeks. They may be made sooner if fracture, infection or tumor is suspected.