X-rays to examine the spine help a physician diagnose problems with the neck or back that include fractures, arthritis and slipped or dislocated vertebrae, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. X-rays can also detect disk degeneration, tumors, spine alignment problems and congenital abnormalities of the spine.
X-rays work by directing electromagnetic energy through the body onto a specially designed plate, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine. This radiation produces a negative image on the plate in various shades of whiteness and darkness, depending on the amount of radiation striking the plate. Since different structures of the body absorb varying amounts of radiation, different amounts of radiation pass through it onto the plate, producing images that correspond to the various body structures. Bones and tumors absorb more radiation than soft tissue and appear white on the plate, while fractures appear as black lines.
X-ray machines are deliberately set to generate the least amount of radiation that is required to produce an image, and experts generally feel that the benefits of X-ray exams outweigh the risks associated with radiation exposure, according to MedlinePlus. Patients are advised to keep a record of their history of radiation exposure, including previous X-rays and related scans, and to provide this information to their physicians, asserts Johns Hopkins Medicine. The risks of radiation exposure are potentially related to the cumulative number of X-ray exams and similar treatments patients have experienced.