Skip to Content

Extremity x-ray

An extremity x-ray is an image of the hands, wrist, feet, ankle, leg, thigh, forearm humerus or upper arm, hip, shoulder or all of these areas. The term "extremity" often refers to a human limb.

X-rays are a form of radiation that passes through the body to form an image on film. Structures that are dense (such as bone) will appear white. Air will be black, and other structures will be shades of gray.

How is the Test Performed?

The test is done in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office by an x-ray technologist.

You will need to hold still as the x-ray is taken. You may be asked to change position, so more x-rays can be taken.

Preparation for the Test

Tell your provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry from the area being imaged.

In general, there is no discomfort. You may be slightly uncomfortable while the leg or arm is put in place for the x-ray.

Why is the Test Performed?

Your provider may order this test if you have signs of a fracture, tumor, or degenerative condition.

Normal Results for Extremity x-ray

The x-ray shows normal structures for the age of the person.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Bone conditions that get worse over time (degenerative)
  • Bone tumor
  • Broken bone (fracture)
  • Dislocated bone
  • Osteomyelitis (infection)

Other conditions for which the test may be performed:

  • Clubfoot
  • To detect foreign objects in the body

Extremity x-ray Risks

There is low-level radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the smallest amount of radiation exposure needed to make the image. Most experts feel that the risk is low compared with the benefits.

Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to the risks of an x-ray.


Spouge A. Imaging overview. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 10.

Related Images

Review Date: 10/22/2014
Reviewed By: Jason Levy, MD, Northside Radiology Associates, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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- 2015 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.