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    Lumbosacral spine x-ray

    X-ray - lumbosacral spine; X-ray - lower spine

    A lumbosacral spine x-ray is a picture of the small bones (vertebrae) in the lower part of the spine, which includes the lumbar region and the sacrum, the area that connects the spine to the pelvis.

    How the Test is Performed

    The test is done in a hospital x-ray department or your health care provider's office by an x-ray technician. You will be asked to lie on the x-ray table in different positions. If the x-ray is being done to diagnose an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

    The x-ray machine will be placed over the lower part of your spine. You will be asked to hold your breath as the picture is taken so that the image will not be blurry. Usually three to five pictures are taken.

    How to Prepare for the Test

    Inform the health care provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

    How the Test Will Feel

    There is rarely any discomfort when having an x-ray, although the table may be cold.

    Why the Test is Performed

    Often, a health care provider will treat a person with low back pain for 4 to 8 weeks before ordering an x-ray.

    The most common reason for lumbosacral spine x-ray is to look for the cause of low back pain that:

    • Occurs after injury
    • Is severe
    • Does not go away after 4 to 8 weeks
    • Is present in an older person

    What Abnormal Results Mean

    Lumbosacral spine x-rays may show:

    • Abnormal curves of the spine
    • Abnormal wear on the cartilage and bones of the lower spine, such as bone spurs and narrowing of the joints between the vertebrae
    • Cancer (although cancer often cannot be seen on this type of x-ray)
    • Fractures
    • Signs of thinning bones (osteoporosis)
    • Spondylolisthesis, in which a bone (vertebra) in the lower part of the spine slips out of the proper position onto the bone below it

    Though some of these findings may be seen on an x-ray, they are not always caused by a person's back.

    Many problems in the spine cannot be diagnosed using a lumbosacral x-ray, including:

    • Sciatica
    • Slipped or herniated disc
    • Spinal stenosis - narrowing of the spinal column

    Risks

    There is low radiation exposure. X-ray machines are checked on a regular basis to make sure they are as safe as possible. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

    Pregnant women should not be exposed to radiation, if at all possible. Care should be taken before children receive x-rays.

    Considerations

    There are a number of back problems that an x-ray will not detect because they involve the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues. A lumbosacral spine CT or lumbosacral spine MRI are better options for soft tissue disorders.

    References

    Stevens JM, Rich PM, Dixon AK. The spine. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 5th ed. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 60.

    Chou R, Qaseem A, Owens DK, Shekelle P; for the Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians. Diagnostic imaging for low back pain: advice for high-value health care from the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 2011;154(3):181-189.

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    • Skeletal spine

      illustration

    • Vertebra, lumbar (low ba...

      illustration

    • Vertebra, thoracic (mid ...

      illustration

    • Vertebral column

      illustration

    • Sacrum

      illustration

    • Posterior spinal anatomy

      illustration

      • Skeletal spine

        illustration

      • Vertebra, lumbar (low ba...

        illustration

      • Vertebra, thoracic (mid ...

        illustration

      • Vertebral column

        illustration

      • Sacrum

        illustration

      • Posterior spinal anatomy

        illustration

      A Closer Look

        Self Care

          Tests for Lumbosacral spine x-ray

          Review Date: 2/7/2011

          Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

          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. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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