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Thoracic spine x-ray

A thoracic spine x-ray is an x-ray of the twelve chest (thoracic) bones (vertebrae). The vertebrae are separated by flat pads of cartilage called disks that provide a cushion between the bones.

How the Test is Performed

The test is done in a hospital radiology department or in the health care provider's office. You will lie on the x-ray table in different positions. If the x-ray is checking for an injury, care will be taken to prevent further injury.

The x-ray machine will be moved over the thoracic area of the spine. You will hold your breath as the picture is taken, so that the picture will not be blurry. Usually 2 or 3 x-ray views are needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

Tell the provider if you are pregnant. Remove all jewelry.

How the Test will Feel

The test causes no discomfort. The table may be cold.

Why the Test is Performed

The x-ray helps evaluate:

  • Bone injuries
  • Cartilage loss
  • Diseases of the bone
  • Tumors of the bone

What Abnormal Results Mean

The test can detect:

  • Bone spurs
  • Deformities of the spine
  • Disk narrowing
  • Dislocations
  • Fractures
  • Thinning of the bone (osteoporosis)
  • Wearing away (degeneration) of the vertebrae


There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored and regulated to provide the minimum amount of radiation exposure needed to produce 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 x-rays.


The x-ray will not detect problems in the muscles, nerves, and other soft tissues, because these problems cannot be seen well on an x-ray.

Alternative Names

Vertebral radiography; X-ray - spine; Thoracic x-ray; Spine x-ray; Thoracic spine films; Back films


Van Thielen T, van den Hauwe L, Van Goethem JW, Parizel PM. Imaging techniques and anatomy. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. New York, NY: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2015:chap 54.

Review Date 8/14/2015

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.