When it should be done
Indications for plain x-rays include fractures, vertebral body collapse due to osteoporosis or tumours, severe scoliosis, spondylolisthesis and suspected instability of the spine (i.e. in rheumatological disorders).
When it should not be done
The role of x-rays in investigating back pain is very limited unless any of the above condition is suspected.
Pregnancy: x-rays can harm the baby but special precautions can be taken to minimise the risk if the x-ray is important. However, it is best avoided.
It should not be done for simple neck or low back pain or to investigate sciatica or nerve entrapment (MRI).
Commonly asked questions
Can x-rays be dangerous for my health?
In principle, x-rays can damage various tissues of the body but reasonably large doses are required. some spinal x-rays, in particular in the lumbar spine require higher doses than for example a chest x-ray. However, even several x-rays in a short time will not cause any harm. Still, a patient should only have an x-ray if there is a clear indication.
How many x-rays can I have?
This depends on the type of x-rays. For further information click here. This will take you to a different NHS patient information website.