How Do I Know If I Need an X-ray?

April 13, 2024

by  | Apr 14, 2024 | Emergency Clinic

How Do I Know If I Need an X-ray?

Spring is in the air, and with it comes the excitement of outdoor sports. Whether you’re playing a friendly game of soccer, taking a bike ride, or enjoying a round of golf, the risk of injury is always present. Imagine you’re in the middle of an exhilarating game of soccer, sprinting towards the goal, when you suddenly twist your ankle. The pain is sharp and immediate. The question arises: Do you need an X-ray?

The History of X-rays

The story of X-rays began in 1895 with German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. While experimenting with electrical currents through gases, he discovered rays that could pass through most substances, leaving shadows of solid objects. When he directed these rays at his wife’s hand, the resulting image displayed the bones within, a groundbreaking revelation. Röntgen named these mysterious rays “X-rays,” a term that has persisted for over a century. Within a mere five years, X-ray machines became indispensable in medical diagnostics, particularly for detecting foreign objects in the body and identifying fractures.

When Should I Get an X-Ray?

X-rays are a vital diagnostic tool that offers a glimpse beneath the skin to diagnose and treat conditions that are not visible externally. Here are some times where an X-ray might be necessary:

  • Difficulty Walking: While a sprain won’t show on an X-ray, a fracture will. X-rays help in confirming or ruling out bone breaks.
  • Digestive Issues: Using a barium contrast, X-rays can reveal issues in the digestive tract or locate ingested foreign objects like coins or small toys.
  • Persistent Swelling: X-rays can detect fractures, joint fluid, or soft tissue changes causing swelling.
  • Joint Pain or Stiffness: X-rays can identify arthritis and monitor joint health, showing fluid buildup or other joint injuries.
  • Lung Problems: X-rays are crucial for diagnosing lung diseases like pneumonia, lung cancer, and detecting changes in the heart affecting respiration.

Common Sports Injuries and When to Get an X-ray

In sports, injuries are common and sometimes it’s hard to know if you should get an X-ray. Here are some guidelines:

  • Severe Pain: If the pain is severe and doesn’t improve with rest and ice, an X-ray might be necessary to rule out a fracture.
  • Visible Deformity: If there’s an obvious deformity, like a bone out of place or an unusual angle, an X-ray is essential.
  • Inability to Bear Weight: If you can’t put weight on an injured foot, ankle, or leg, an X-ray can determine if there’s a fracture.
  • Persistent Swelling and Bruising: If swelling and bruising don’t subside after a few days, an X-ray can help identify underlying issues.

How X-rays Work

Röntgen’s pioneering work showed that X-rays are high-energy electromagnetic waves. During an X-ray, these rays pass through the body to create an image on a film or digital detector. Soft tissues allow more rays to pass through and appear darker on the image, while denser materials like bones block more rays and appear lighter. This contrast allows doctors to easily identify fractures, tumors, and other abnormalities.

X-rays can be categorized into three main types:

  1. Radiography: This produces still images and is the most common form of X-ray.
  2. Computed Tomography (CT) Scans: These provide detailed 3D images by taking multiple X-ray slices from different angles, significantly increasing radiation exposure.
  3. Fluoroscopy: This technique creates real-time moving images, often used to examine the heart, digestive system, and joints.

Are X-rays Safe?

X-rays are generally safe, but minimizing exposure is essential. Always inform your doctor of any recent X-rays and if there’s a possibility of pregnancy. Medical professionals follow the ALARA principle (As Low as Reasonably Achievable) to ensure radiation doses are kept to a minimum while achieving the needed diagnostic quality. Despite the minimal risks, unnecessary X-rays should be avoided.

If you’re experiencing significant pain or dysfunction in your body, visit AFC Urgent Care Gastonia where we can x-ray your injuries and give you the treatment you need at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room.

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