Neck x-ray

Toggle: English / Spanish

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.

Alternative Names

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

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 to Prepare for the Test

Tell the health care provider if you are or think you may be pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

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.

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.

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

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.

References

Roosevelt GE. Acute inflammatory upper airway obstruction (croup, epiglottitis, laryngitis, and bacterial tracheitis). In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 385.

Van Thielen T, van den Hauwe L, Van Goethem JW, Parizel PM. Imaging techniques and anatomy. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone: 2015;chap 54.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 8/14/2015
  • Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch)

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.