X-ray, MRI and CT Scan

By: Virginia Halpin, PTA

 X-Ray, MRI and CT Scan, Which Do I Need?

If you have ever had an injury, you may have heard of three different types of imaging tests: X-Ray, CT Scan, and MRI. These tests can be a valuable asset to help doctors diagnose your medical condition. While they are all used to look at internal structures of the body, they are not the same.

What is an X-Ray?

X-Rays are a form of radiation emitted into the body in order to create pictures of internal organs and bones. An energy beam is aimed directly at the body part being studied and the plate behind the body part captures the energy beam after it passes through skin, bone, muscle, and other tissues. Areas that are more dense and high in calcium, like bones, appear white on film because they can block the radiation. Less dense tissue like fat and muscle will appear gray as more radiation passes through.

This quick test consists of positioning the body in a seated, standing, or lying down position in order to take a snapshot of the desired body part although the test may be prolonged if multiple images are required.

AP X-ray image of the lower spine and pelvisWhat is an X-ray film?

What are the Reasons that You May Require an X-Ray?

X-Rays are widely used to diagnose:

  • Bone fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Bone and joint conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis

What is a CT Scan?

A computerized tomography scan, also known as a CT Scan, is an imaging procedure that uses X-ray and computer technology to produce detailed images of nearly any body part. It uses X-ray images taken from different angles to create three-dimensional images of bones, soft tissues, and blood vessels. Unlike a standard X-Ray, a CT Scan has an X-Ray beam that moves in a circle around the body allowing for different angles of the same organ.

During a CT scan, the patient will lie on a table inside of a large, doughnut-shaped machine. The table will slowly move through the scanner and it will take anywhere from ten minutes to a half-hour.

CT scan of both legsX-ray, MRI and CT Scan 

What are the Reasons that You May Need a CT Scan?

A CT Scan is a diagnostic tool used to identify bone disorders such as:

  • Bone Fractures not visible or clear on X-Rays
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteopenia
  • Bone Cancer
  • Bone Infections

Muscle damage such as:

What is an MRI?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is a test used to produce a detailed anatomical image of the body used for diagnosing bone and joint problems and assessing treatment progress. Rather than using radiation like X-Rays and CT Scans, an MRI uses a powerful magnet to transmit radio waves through the body. Protons in the body react to the energy and create highly detailed pictures of the body’s structures.

X-ray, MRI and CT Scan at JOIX-ray, MRI and CT Scan

The scanner on an MRI resembles a large tube that is open on both ends. The patient will lie down on a movable table which will then slide into the tube. The scan lasts anywhere from fifteen minutes to over an hour and the patient may be given ear plugs or music to help block out the tapping and thumping noises that the machine produces. It is important that the patient remove all jewelry prior to the scan and to alert their doctor if they have any medical implants or metal in their body. This includes cardiac pacemakers, pins or plates in or on their bones, cochlear implants, and stents.

What are the Reasons That You May Require an MRI?

In orthopedics, an MRI can be used to examine injuries and other conditions, including:

  • Cartilage Abnormalities
  • Nerve Compression
  • Spinal Injuries
  • Muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint injuries such as:
  • Meniscal Tear
  • ACL Tear
  • Rotator Cuff Tears
  • Ligament Sprain
  • Muscle or Tendon Strain

MRI films of a lumbar spineX-ray, MRI and CT Scan 

Related Articles: What is an MRI? and Should I Have Treatment Before an MRI?

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