Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Extremity X-Ray

Extremity X-Ray

Test Overview

An extremity X-ray is a picture of your hand, wrist, arm, foot, ankle, knee, hip, or leg. It is done to see whether a bone has been fractured or a joint dislocated. It is also used to check for an injury or damage from conditions such as an infection, arthritis, bone growths (tumors), or other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.

Why It Is Done

Why It Is Done

Extremity X-rays are done to:

  • Find the cause of pain in an extremity.
  • See if your bone is fractured or your joint is dislocated.
  • See if fluid has built up in the joint or around a bone.
  • See if your bones are positioned properly after treatment for a fracture or dislocation, such as after placing a cast or splint on an arm or leg. An X-ray also may be done after a doctor places a device such as a pin or an artificial joint in a bone.
  • Find changes in your bones caused by conditions such as an infection, arthritis, bone growths (tumors), osteoarthritis of the hip, osteoarthritis of the knee, or other bone diseases.
  • Find foreign objects such as pieces of glass or metal.
  • Check to see if a child's bones are growing normally.
  • See if your bones and joints are in the correct position after joint replacement surgery.
How To Prepare

How To Prepare

In general, there's nothing you have to do before this test, unless your doctor tells you to.

How It Is Done

How It Is Done

You will need to remove any jewelry that may be in the way of the X-ray picture. You may need to take off some of your clothes, depending on which area is examined. You will be given a cloth or paper gown to use during the test. You may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not get in the way of the test.

During the test

During the X-ray test, you will sit by or be on an X-ray table. The X-ray technologist will position your limb. If you have an injury, your leg or arm will be handled gently and supported when moved or repositioned. Pillows, sandbags, or other objects may be used to hold the injured limb in place while the pictures are taken. If you are wearing a brace or other device, it may need to be removed. A lead shield may be placed over your pelvic area to protect it from radiation.

Two or more pictures of the affected limb are usually taken. X-ray pictures may also be taken of other joints or limbs, since an injury at one point may cause damage somewhere else. Sometimes an X-ray picture of the unaffected limb is taken so it can be compared with the affected limb.

How long the test takes

An extremity X-ray usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes. You will wait about 5 minutes until the X-rays are processed, in case repeat pictures need to be taken. In some clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures can be shown right away on a computer screen (digitally).

How It Feels

How It Feels

You won't feel any pain from the X-ray itself. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful. This is more likely if you have an injury.

Risks

Risks

There is always a slight chance of damage to cells or tissue from radiation, including the low levels of radiation used for this test. But the chance of damage from the X-rays is extremely low. It is not a reason to avoid the test.

If you need an X-ray during pregnancy, a lead apron will be placed over your belly to protect the baby from exposure to radiation from the X-rays. The chance of harm is usually very low compared with the benefits of the test.

Results

Results

In an emergency, the doctor can see the initial results of an extremity X-ray in a few minutes. Otherwise, a radiologist usually has the official X-ray report ready the next day.

Normal results

Normal:

The bones, joints, and soft tissue look normal. No foreign objects, such as fragments of metal or glass, are present.

No infection and no abnormal growths (tumors) are present.

The joints are normal with no dislocation or signs of disease, such as arthritis.

All parts of a joint replacement are in the correct position.

Abnormal results

Abnormal:

Fractured bones may be present.

Foreign objects, such as fragments of metal or glass, may be present.

Abnormal growths (tumors) are present.

Signs of bleeding or infection, such as a collection of blood, pus, or gas may be present.

A joint may be dislocated.

The bones or joints may show signs of damage from a disease such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, gout, Paget's disease, or rheumatoid arthritis of the feet and hands.

Swelling is present in tissues around the bones even though the bones may be normal.

There are loose parts, worn parts, or an infection in a joint that has artificial pieces (joint replacement).

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Medical Tests: Questions to Ask the Doctor

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details