For most new patients that enter our office, x-rays are part of our routine first visit, along with a consultation and examination. Why do we take x-rays and what are we looking for when we review them?
Why take an x-ray?
First, we take x-rays to help confirm our findings in the consultation and exam. X-rays are often necessary for us to confirm our diagnosis. But x-rays also give us information that we can not get from the exam, and can also give us information that would keep us from treating you.
In my first year of practice, a new patient came to my office with lower back pain for the past few weeks after doing some heavy lifting at work. During the exam, I found nothing that would keep him from being a candidate for chiropractic care. However after taking an x-ray, I found that he had cancer that had metastasized throughout his spine and pelvis.
He didn’t even know he had cancer!
Without an x-ray, I likely would have adjusted him, and with his spine in that condition, could have fractured his vertebra. But since I took an x-ray, I was able to determine the true cause of his lower back pain and refer him to an oncologist that would treat him.
When we take x-rays, what are we looking for?
The first thing that I look for when looking at an x-ray is the bone structure. I look to see if there are any problems with the bone that would keep me from treating the patient, like the patient I mentioned earlier.
I look to see if there are any fractures evident in the spine. If the patient’s bones look weak, as in patients with osteoporosis, I would likely adjust them differently than someone who had normal, healthy bone structure. I next look at the joint and disc spaces. This tells me how much degeneration has taken place in the spine over time.
Signs of advanced degeneration tell me that that problem has likely been there for a long time, and will take longer to correct. When looking at the spine from the side, your spine has normal curves, on x-ray I can tell if these curves are normal, reduced or exaggerated.
The last thing that I look at on x-ray is the spinal alignment.
This is one key difference in the way that chiropractors and medical doctors look at x-rays. By checking the spinal alignment on x-ray, I am easily able to see what vertebra are out of position, and thus where I need to make the adjustment.
As you can see, taking x-rays of the spine is extremely beneficial to chiropractors. It not only helps make a proper diagnosis, which leads to more effective treatment, but it also helps determine if the patient is a candidate for chiropractic care, or if they need to be referred out for further evaluation.