In the National Football League, the final weeks of each year determine the chances the 32 teams have to advance to the playoffs and hopefully the Super Bowl. For the teams that were not able to post a winning record and no longer have a shot at the playoffs, this part of the season typically involves giving rookies and second-string players minutes on the field, and it also means giving veterans and star players some rest and time off the gridiron so that they can get into chiropractic sessions. All NFL teams have chiropractors who stay busy all through the season and even beyond the Super Bowl; for these healthcare professionals, ordering x-rays and evaluating images are very important aspects of their sports medicine practice.
For the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, Mondays are restoration days when they consult with medical staff who will sometimes order x-ray examinations; some will visit their chiropractors the next day depending on the evaluation of the images. NFL players are not the only professional athletes who depend on chiropractic care for health and performance. Golf legend Tiger Woods and basketball superstar Michael Jordan have explained that their dominance in their respective disciplines had a lot to do with the care they received from chiropractors because it helped them both physically and mentally.
X-Rays as Diagnostic Tools
Like other healthcare professionals, chiropractors follow a certain methodology for the purpose of treating their patients. When you go to the clinic for a chiropractic evaluation, practitioners will adhere to a workflow that includes:
- Subjective observations.
- Objective observations.
- Planning of treatment.
The subjective observation will consist mostly of interview questions; it starts with your complaint plus the reasons that prompted you to seek chiropractic care. The objective observations are part of the physical exam, and the chiropractor may request x-ray imaging as part of this process. Healthcare practitioners cannot advance to the next step, the assessment, until they are satisfied that the sum of the subjective and objective observations can add up to a solid diagnosis.
How Chiropractors Interpret X-Ray Images
Although the chiropractic field of practice is holistic, practitioners strongly focus on musculoskeletal conditions that are suitable for x-ray imaging. Let’s say you have been suffering from persistent lower back pain; the subjective and objective observations during the chiropractic exam may suggest a misalignment of the vertebrae is straining a few nerve pairs, but certain conditions must be ruled out before manipulation of the spine can be undertaken. If the x-rays reveal the presence of unknown growths right on the vertebrae, this could present a risk in terms of manipulation.
Aside from growths, there may be other issues such as fractures that could interfere with chiropractic sessions. What chiropractors are looking for when they evaluate x-ray images is how the skeletal structure appears and whether it can be manipulated for the purpose of providing relief and improving overall health as well as quality of life.
Are X-Rays Absolutely Necessary?
Every patient and every condition is bound to be different, and not all cases will require x-rays for a chiropractic diagnosis or to formulate an adequate treatment plan. It should be noted that the type of x-ray images requested by chiropractors tend to be different than those ordered by other healthcare practitioners. Whenever possible, chiropractors will prefer to look at images that were taken when patients are standing up rather than in prone or supine positions; the goal is to get an idea of how the patient’s posture and weight may be playing a part in terms of skeletal displacement.
Patients who have a history of cancer conditions can expect x-ray imaging to be ordered by chiropractors; as previously explained, the intention is to rule out the presence of growths on the vertebrae. A history of scoliosis or other abnormal curvatures of the spine will also merit a closer look, and this means getting x-rays.
When X-Rays Need to be Taken More Than Once
There may be times when chiropractors will request x-rays after the initial consultation. When treatment requires spinal manipulation, both practitioners and their patients will be able to notice improvement, but some cases will require a more precise assessment of the progress made. It is generally easier for chiropractors who have x-ray equipment in their clinics to obtain images of the spine and joints from various angles. Likewise, if patients develop a different type of discomfort during or after their adjustment sessions, this may be indicative of secondary issues developing, and it would be better for chiropractors to determine the next course of action after taking x-rays.
How X-Rays Work
In essence, x-type radiation is a directed form of electromagnetic energy that allows beams to pass through soft tissue. To a certain extent, x-rays are similar to the waves of wireless communications; however, the beams are projected and reflected for the purpose of viewing internal anatomy. While x-rays are able to make it through soft tissue, they bounce back when reflected on surfaces such as teeth and bones, and this is why they look white on radiography film or digital imaging. Nerves, ligaments, connective tissue, and muscle are displayed on a spectrum of gray.
What Patients Can Expect from Chiropractic X-Ray Examinations
The first thing you should know about x-rays at the chiropractor’s clinic is that they are not universal for all consultations. In the aforementioned case of NFL players going into the off-season for the purpose of giving their physiques time and treatment to recuperate, x-rays will certainly be taken. As diagnostic tools, x-rays are non-invasive; for the most part, they do not create discomfort for patients and are easy to obtain. Should you not be able to stand on your feet during the procedure, you may have the option to lie down on the x-ray table.
Patients who are concerned about high levels of radiation emanated from x-ray equipment should know that technology has advanced to the point of reducing this risk to being negligible, and this is for traditional radiography. With the new digital x-ray equipment, which most diagnostic laboratories and clinics have adopted in 2020, radiation levels have been lowered by about 80%, thus making them considerably safer.
Another advantage of digital radiography is related to the cost savings, which are passed on to patients. Even if your medical insurance plan does not cover chiropractic care, digital x-ray images are more affordable than traditional, film-based examinations. The quality of digital x-ray images is also far better, thus making diagnoses more accurate and giving chiropractors more information about the conditions affecting their patients.