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Are Cervical X-Ray Series Safe?

If your doctor has ordered cervical X-rays for you to monitor your treatment progress, you may have some questions. For example, you may wonder why your doctor wants X-rays in the first place. Another common question is about the safety of cervical X-rays.

Fortunately, cervical X-rays are safe. Multiple top world-renowned medical centers — including the Cleveland Clinic and Mount Sinai — have written about the low radiation risks and overall safety of cervical X-rays.

In this article, I will explain what a cervical X-ray is, and discuss the low amounts of radiation in a cervical X-ray series.

What Is A Cervical X-Ray?

Neck DiagramA cervical X-ray, also known as a neck X-ray or a lateral neck X-ray, is an X-ray of the upper part of your spine.

The cervical portion of your spine is made up of 7 vertebrae. The upper cervical region consists of the occiput (the back of your skull), and the C1 and C2 vertebrae, which are known as the atlas and the axis. Beneath these, the C3 through C7 vertebrae are considered the mid to lower cervical spine.

Because the C1 and C2 vertebrae are the most freely moveable joints in your spine, they are prone to injury and misalignment.

Neck X-RayAn X-ray is a test in which a focused beam of low-dose radiation is passed through a part of your body. This radiation can provide a detailed view of the bones of your spine, including your cervical spine. Because little radiation can pass through bones, they appear white on an X-ray. Other tissues allow varying amounts of radiation through, so they appear gray. Air appears black because radiation can freely pass through.

During an X-ray of the cervical spine, three different pictures usually are taken:

  • Front view, also known as AP or anterior-posterior/nasium view
  • Top to down/axial view known as a base posterior/vertex view
  • Side view, also known as lateral view

Sometimes, your doctor may request additional pictures like flexion and extension views of your neck.

How Much Radiation Is In A Neck X-Ray Series?

An X-ray exposes you to a very low amount of radiation: it’s about the same amount of radiation you would normally get in a ten-day period.

A series of neck X-rays typically has between 0.2 and 0.8 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation. Because different X-ray machines have different doses of radiation, your chiropractor will be able to tell you how much radiation is delivered by the X-ray machine in their office.

An mSv is the average total background radiation (not counting radon) to which an average person in the United States is exposed. In total, the average American is exposed to around 3 mSv per year. Americans are exposed to radiation from food, radon, cosmic rays, soil, and building materials.

Is the Radiation From A Neck X-Ray Dangerous?

Given the low amounts of radiation in a neck X-ray series, it would be nearly impossible for a neck X-ray series from your chiropractor to significantly impact your overall cancer risk.

The lifetime risk of cancer can increase by 1% in people exposed to more than 100 mSv per year. This is a huge amount of radiation compared to the 0.2 to 0.8 mSv in a typical cervical X-ray series. For this reason, experts recommend limiting radiation exposure to 50 mSv per year or 100 mSv over a 3-year period.

Is Low-Dose Radiation Dangerous?

Low-dose radiation is not dangerous. This is especially true of radiation exposure well under 100 mSv, such as cervical X-ray imaging.

According to experts, only one individual out of 100 would be expected to develop cancer from a radiation dose of 100 mSv while approximately 42 of the 100 would be expected to develop cancer from other causes.

Lower doses of radiation have proportionally lower risks. Since a cervical X-ray series generally has only between 0.2 and 0.8 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation, it is very low risk. The risk is so low under 100 mSv of exposure, in fact, that statisticians cannot even accurately predict the exact numbers because the cancers would be so rare.

Experts consider it much more dangerous to postpone needed medical imaging versus to delay it due to concerns about low-dose radiation.

Can I Get a Neck X-Ray If I’m Pregnant?

You can get a neck X-ray while pregnant if it is medically necessary. Radiation that passes through your neck poses little risk to a fetus. However, make sure to tell your doctor that you are pregnant before getting an X-ray. You may be given a lead vest to cover your abdomen to protect the fetus. As a general policy due to mother’s concerns, we do NOT x-ray pregnant women.

Cervical X-rays at Precision Spinal Care

As a spine management physician, I am qualified to order and evaluate X-ray series and competently address your underlying medical conditions. I am trauma and hospital-qualified and have credentials in MRI spine interpretation, spinal biomechanical engineering and orthopedic testing through the Academy of Chiropractic. I am also a fellow in Spinal Biomechanics and Trauma which is recognized through the SUNY Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine.

As a certified NUCCA chiropractor, I strongly believe that the first visit is best used as a time to fully assess your condition. This includes a thorough exam of your spine and a discussion about your medical problems. At this visit, I may also order an X-ray if I think it is medically appropriate. I will never order tests that are not medically necessary.

After your exam at the first visit, we will discuss my evaluation. If chiropractic is not the best solution for your needs, I will recommend the type of specialist who is most appropriate for you.

If chiropractic care is the best way to meet your care goals, we will work together to develop a plan to meet your needs. I make sure to set reasonable expectations and milestones for your recovery. At regular intervals, I will reevaluate you to make sure you are meeting these goals and that chiropractic remains the best choice for you.

At Precision Spinal Care we are happy to help you determine the best way to address your specific needs. If we can help, we will. If we determine it is best for you to see a different specialist, we will help you find a doctor who can address your needs.

Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak to the doctor or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment through our webpage.

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