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joint x-ray

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Site of joint X-ray of elbow

Joint X-ray of elbow

Alternative Names 
radiographic examination of the joint

A joint x-ray is a radiographic image of a place where bones in the body connect. Examples include the knee, elbow and ankle. X-rays consist of electromagnetic waves of energy. They penetrate the body to varying extents depending on the density of the structures being viewed. The result is back and white images of interior portions of the body.

Who is a candidate for the test? 
A person who has pain, swelling, redness, limited motion or deformity of any joint is a candidate for a joint x-ray. X-rays can also be used to check on a person's progress after an operation.

How is the test performed? 
The person having the x-ray will remove clothing to expose the affected joint. The x-rays may be taken sitting, standing or lying on an x-ray table. Sometimes, iodinated contrast material, or dye, will be injected into the joint. An x-ray taken after the dye is injected is called an arthrogram.

The joint is placed over the x-ray film. The x-ray tube is positioned over the joint and the film is exposed. The exposure lasts only a fraction of a second. Several x-rays will be taken. The technologist will examine the pictures. If they are adequate, the individual is free to leave. In recent years, CT, a special three-dimensional x-ray, and the MRI, a special three-dimensional image using magnets, Images have largely replaced x-rays for the examination of joints.

What is involved in preparation for the test? 
Before the examination, an individual needs to remove all jewellery or other metal objects that may interfere with the process. He or she will also remove splints or prosthetic devices. Women will be asked if they might be pregnant.

What do the test results mean? 
Joint x-rays can show:
  • fluid in the joint
  • narrowing of the joint space
  • abnormal bony growths
  • tumours
  • fractures
  • different types of arthritis
  • bad alignment, or joints in which the parts do not match up as intended
  • increase or decrease in bone density
  • abnormal calcifications, or hardening of tissue because of calcium deposits
  • loose pieces in the joint
Author: James Compton, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 16/10/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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