Do I Really Need X-Rays For Chiropractic Care?
Are X-Rays really necessary?
There are certain practices in the medical world that are standard for a reason. Doctors sanitize their hands to prevent the spread of germs. Pharmacists ask about allergies to medication to prevent dangerous reactions. Your dentist taps your gums to make sure the anesthetic has kicked in before drilling. It’s all done for the good of the patient.
And at Ascent Chiropractic, there’s a good reason we utilize digital x-ray imaging before making adjustments to the spine or extremities.
Most chiropractors are knowledgeable enough to understand spinal misalignments through palpation (examination with their hands). But while this might clue a chiropractor in on an area of focus, X-ray imaging provides qualitative and quantitative data that can be leveraged into a highly specific, customized treatment plan.
For example, rotation of the vertebrae in the neck can usually be easily felt through palpation. But to what degree are they rotated? And is it accompanied by any lateral movement? If so, how far? This is what directs a course of treatment. Rotation and lateral shifting in the cervical spine, for example, may require a three-week treatment schedule, coupled with myofascial release techniques and posterior chain strengthening exercises.
Seeing the whole picture
X-rays enable chiropractors to see what a routine assessment might not show them. For example, it’s easy to see anterior pelvic tilt in a person’s posture, but it’s a lot more challenging to diagnose the shifting sacrum that often accompanies it. X-rays can also show evidence of dysfunction further up, revealing secondary problems in the lumbar or thoracic spine.
They convey other information too, such as the presence of scar tissue, arthritis, degeneration or pathologies in a certain area, all red-flag factors that need to be considered when determining the best plan of treatment.
The spine is like a puzzle. X-ray imaging is like being able to see the box, to get an idea of what all of the pieces look like as a whole. It’s much easier to fully understand problem areas and their catalysts with everything laid out clearly.
Is x-ray imaging safe?
So we’ve established their usefulness, but is the radiation you get from x-rays actually safe? Last week a patient forwarded me this tweet (after his initial appointment & x-rays), which gave me a tongue-in-cheek laugh and inspired this post:
Mushroom clouds. Godzilla. The Incredible Hulk.
This is what people usually think of when we talk about radiation, and the general feeling is that you should avoid all radiation if you can. But the truth is, we’re all exposed to a significant amount of radiation every single day.
In fact, you can’t even eat a banana without being exposed to radiation — some of the potassium in bananas naturally occurs as the radioactive isotope potassium-40. But you don’t need a lead shield for your fruit basket; the dose of radiation from a single banana is very, very small.
Scientists measure the potential damage radiation would cause to the human body in microsieverts (μSv). Eating a banana, for example, would give you a dose of radiation equal to 0.1 microsievert (μSv).
In comparison, you’re exposed to about 10μSv of background radiation from just one day of living on earth. A digital spinal x-ray – like what we take on most patients at Ascent Chiropractic – is between 20μSv and 80μSv. You get the same or less radiation from one spinal x-ray as you do from about a week of simply being alive on this planet.
For more perspective, here’s how much radiation you’ll get from other sources:
‣Arm x-ray: 1μSv
‣Dental x-ray: 5μSv
‣Flight from NY to LA: 40μSv
‣CT Scan: 10,000μSv
In contrast, the lowest single dose of radiation that’s associated with an increased risk of cancer is 100,000μSv.
But even knowing that, it’s important to realize that with radiation, both dose and duration matter. Your cells are able to repair damage over time, meaning as long as the amount you’re exposed to at one time isn’t too much for your body to repair, the effect doesn’t accumulate.
Think of it like this; if you get hit by a ping pong ball once a day for an entire year, the damage will never build up enough to really hurt you. But if you get hit by 365 ping pong balls all at once you’re probably not going to have a great time.
Of course, because ionizing radiation is more damaging to cells that divide rapidly (such as fetal tissue), we’ll always ask women of child-bearing age if there is even a possibility of them being pregnant before an x-ray.
The bottom line
Got back or neck pain? Instead of just treating symptoms, let’s find out exactly what’s going on. At Ascent Chiropractic, we use the most advanced digital imaging in order to fully understand what’s occurring in your body so we can identify and correct the cause of your symptoms. Our unique, evidence-based approach to chiropractic care combined with the best of physical rehabilitation therapies allows us to get unmatched, long-term results.
Discover the difference personalized, comprehensive care at Ascent Chiropractic makes. To schedule an appointment, call us at 262-345-4166 or use our online scheduling app.