Top Videos

How do I Know if I Need an X-Ray?

Factors indicating the need of an X-ray

Needing an X-ray is something that would be indicated if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Having significant pain
  • If you are unable to put weight on an extremity 
  • If you are not able to move your fingers 
  • If you can't do something with one of your extremities without experiencing significant pain

Figuring out whether you need an X-ray or not is something that should be left up to the clinician. In a case in which you are experiencing significant pain to where you can’t bear weight on an extremity, or you can’t move your hands or your wrist because you’ve injured it that badly, you should be seen by a physician who might determine whether you need an X-ray or not. If you have to raise the question of whether you need an X-Ray or not, you probably do need to get one. Without an X-ray, it is nearly impossible to tell when or if you have a fracture.

What are X-rays?

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation, as are radio waves, infrared radiation, visible light, ultraviolet radiation and microwaves. They are a photographic or digital image of the internal composition of something, especially a part of the body. The images produced by X-rays are made as the electromagnetic radiation passes through the body part and is absorbed to different degrees by different materials.

One of the most common and beneficial uses of X-rays is for medical imaging, having been used for decades to help doctors view the inside of the body without having to make an incision. X-rays can be done in a hospital’s radiology department or a clinic that specializes in diagnostic procedures. Beyond the obvious symptom of pain, there are many other symptoms to be aware of when determining whether you should get an X-ray or not.

  • Bruising, or discoloration caused by an injury, shows that blood has escaped from the capillaries in the area, which means the tissue has been damaged underneath. Bruising can happen with almost any kind of tissue damage, including blood leaking from a broken bone.
  • The next symptom to be aware of is swelling. Injuries cause fluids and sometimes blood to leak into soft tissues like muscle, fat and skin. All that extra fluid causes the soft tissues to swell and become taut or hard. Swelling can happen from medical conditions without trauma as well, but very frequently happens after an injury.
  • Deformity is another symptom that indicates that you should get an X-ray and is arguably the best indicator of a fracture. When the arm or leg bends in places it’s not supposed to bend, it’s a good bet there is a bone out of place.


X-rays are very useful for physicians in determining what is wrong with a specific patient, and what treatment plan to follow to achieve the best outcome. The images show the parts of your body in different shades of black and white. Calcium in bones absorbs X-rays the most, so bones look white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less, and look gray. Air absorbs the least, making lungs appear gray. If you are unsure whether or not you are in need of an X-ray, you should consult with your physician.