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A hand X-ray is a black and white image that shows the inner structures of your hand, such as your bones and soft tissues. This diagnostic tool can help your doctor locate and understand injuries or degenerative diseases that affect one or both of your hands. Your doctor can also use hand X-rays to monitor the growth of bone in your hands. If you have a nutritional deficiency or metabolic disorder, your bones may not grow properly.
X-rays are taken using radiation. A technician in the radiology department at a hospital or another medical facility usually performs X-rays.
Hand X-rays don’t require special preparation. If you’re wearing rings, bracelets, or a watch, you’ll be asked to remove them. This will make it easier for the technician to manipulate your hand into the right position for your X-rays. It will also allow your radiologist to read your X-rays without mistaking your jewelry for bone fractures, for example.
You may not be able to remove your jewelry if you have swelling from a hand injury. The outline of your jewelry will be visible on your X-ray, but it won’t prevent the technician from taking pictures of your hand.
Let the technician know if you’re pregnant or think you may be pregnant. There’s a slight risk that radiation exposure could damage your fetus. As a precaution, women and children are usually draped with an apron lined with lead to protect their reproductive organs and developing fetuses.
You will be asked to place your hand on an examination table. Stay as still as possible while the X-rays are being taken. The technician may move your hand into different positions to take a series of pictures.
The X-rays themselves aren’t painful. However, X-rays are used to diagnose conditions such as bone fractures, tumors, and arthritis. In some cases, these conditions can create pain during the X-ray process.
Sometimes you will receive the results of your X-rays immediately. For example, some injuries, such as a broken wrist, should be diagnosed and treated quickly. Many modern X-ray machines display the images on a computer screen as soon as your pictures are taken. Dense objects, such bones or jewelry, will appear white on the X-ray film. Soft tissues will appear gray. Air, such as the spaces between your joints, will appear black.
X-rays that are taken to establish growth patterns or other issues that aren’t time-sensitive are usually read within one to two days. Your doctor will probably contact you when the results of your hand X-ray are available.
The risks of radiation exposure during a hand X-ray are very minimal. You’re exposed to radiation for only about a second during an X-ray. The benefits of diagnosing injuries and diseases usually outweigh the risks of brief radiation exposure.
Hand X-rays are a low-risk diagnostic tool. Your doctor can use them to diagnose or monitor problems with your hands, such as injuries, degenerative diseases, or improper bone growth. After your doctor has diagnosed the issue, they will provide a recommended treatment plan. Ask them for more information about your specific condition, treatment plan, and long-term outlook.
Written by: Erica Roth
Medically reviewed on: Mar 16, 2016: William Morrison, MD
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