Why do Chiropractors Use X-rays?

Chiropractor taking an X-Ray

Getting your x-rays done at the chiropractor is easier than ever. Gone are the days of waiting for the x-rays to be processed, or going to an imaging center to have x-rays sent to your chiropractor. Element Chiropractic now has its very own digital x-ray machine in their office!

Rather than bringing in Clark Kent and his Superman X-ray vision, we use a machine. Not as exciting, but definitely more reliable. X-rays are used to give the chiropractor an inside look at what’s going on structurally. Because chiropractors treat the musculoskeletal parts of the body, the x-ray is an integral tool for their practice.

Chiropractors x-ray patients primarily for bone evaluation, they can also be used to look at bone alignment, joint spaces and surgical hardware.

Your chiropractic provider may recommend x-rays to look carefully at your bone health and to evaluate your internal structure. It’s best to choose a chiropractor with X-ray on premise so they can match what they see with the X-rays with their chiropractic treatments. 

Bone Health

Your bones give you the shape and support that your body needs, along with the storage and distribution of vital minerals, such as calcium. Paying attention to your bone health, and obtaining an x-ray when recommended can help diagnose and/or detect the following:

  • Arthritis/Degeneration: An x-ray that shows arthritis or degeneration can help shed light on the cause of symptoms and how you may respond to treatment. Bone spurs, wearing out of cartilage and other arthritis symptoms can lead to pain, stiffness, weakness or numbness. Knowing what areas are arthritic helps determine how best to treat that area and better anticipate healing times.
  • Fracture: With any trauma, the likelihood of a fracture is possible. X-rays may reveal a fracture and your chiropractor can help coordinate a referral for the appropriate care like an orthopedic surgeon. This also tells the chiropractor to avoid adjusting that area while it is healing.
  • Congenital defects: This can include bone fusions, spina bifida, or even extra or fewer bones. Revealing any congenital defects through x-ray will help give the chiropractor a better understanding of your internal structure, and will help them adjust you differently, as needed. Every patient is different!
  • Osteoporosis: Sometimes bone density is drastically diminishing and the patient is not aware. An x-ray can reveal to the chiropractor the level of bone loss, and will prompt the chiropractor to use a gentler method of adjustment, with an instrument, such as the Arthostim and refer you for a bone density test, if needed.
  • Rare bone conditions such as cancer or infection: X-rays can show a great many things, including those scary things no one wants to see. In the case of a rare finding of cancer or infection, the chiropractor will immediately refer you to your general practitioner or have you obtain additional diagnostic imaging and lab work to confirm a possible problem.

Structural Evaluation

Your skeleton provides the framework for your body and understanding how that structure is built is important to determine the best care for you. An x-ray can reveal structural problems within your spine or extremities that may contribute to your complaints or that may lead to future problems if not addressed now. Here are a few things chiropractors look for in your x-ray images:

  • Posture: When an x-ray reveals poor posture, it can serve as proof for the patient, and as a starting place for the chiropractor. Poor posture can impact much of the body, with plenty of overcompensation that can lead to pain and possible degenerative changes.
  • Scoliosis: An x-ray for scoliosis can help show a progression–is it getting worse? Or is it in a holding pattern (not improving, but not worsening).
  • Post-Trauma Whiplash: On an x-ray, a neck that was whipped around during a car accident, fall or sports injury may show up as a straight line, rather than having the natural cervical curve or even stair-stepping of the vertebra, that can indicate ligament injury.
  • Leg-length Discrepancy: A pelvis x-ray may show the discrepancy or difference between one leg length and the other. A heel lift may be used to balance the difference and help the patient feel more comfortable and alleviate pain.
  • Degenerative Changes / Wear & Tear: X-rays can show the wear and tear of your body clearly, from the inside. You may begin to lose the space between your vertebrae and other joints, and the x-ray will show which areas are giving the most problems, and what kind of adjustment will help improve your condition.

What does a chiropractic x-ray appointment look like?

X-rays can take as little as 15-20 minutes, even if the chiropractor is taking x-rays of three different body parts. Just like a digital picture has greater quality than a film camera, the digital x-ray image is available immediately, and has higher quality. The chiropractor can also zoom in, increase the contrast, or change settings so diagnosing issues is easier than before. Having the results immediately is helpful for creating and beginning treatment as soon as possible, to help you feel better sooner. The in-office x-ray makes it mostly a one-stop-shop for your chiropractic treatment, making it easier than ever.

After the x-rays are taken, you can expect the following:

  • an immediate x-ray image
  • a general overview of the x-ray findings with the chiropractor
  • a follow-up appointment to formally review any findings or conditions that may appear on your x-rays.

A chiropractor in Oregon is fully licensed to take and read x-rays as part of her scope of practice. In some cases, the chiropractor may determine the x-rays need additional review and will send them digitally over to a radiologist; the results typically come back to the chiropractor within one day.

Does Insurance Cover X-rays?

Most insurance companies will cover the cost of x-rays taken by a chiropractor. You may have a copay or coinsurance amount for x-rays. Some insurance plans may require pre-authorization for x-rays, but we will check before taking imaging. Some insurance plans like Medicare only cover x-rays ordered by their medical doctor, but many opt to pay out of pocket for the convenience.

Additional Diagnostic Imaging

X-rays are a fantastic starting point for a treatment plan with a chiropractor. There are, however, some cases in which a patient may need additional imaging. Your chiropractor can typically make a direct referral to an imaging center for additional diagnostic imaging. If pre-authorization is required, then we will help with this step.

Here are a few other diagnostic imaging options that our chiropractor will refer you to, if needed:

  • MRI: This is best for soft tissue like discs, joint cartilage, rotator cuff, labral tears, ligaments, tendons. Completely avoids radiation exposure.
  • MR Arthrogram:  A special type of MRI that uses contrast dye injection to better visualize the joints and tissues.
  • CT: This is best for brain injury; can also be used for other organ injuries, blood clots, and subtle fractures.
  • Fluoroscopy: This procedure is good for evaluating instability. An x-ray beam is passed through the body part while the person moves through a range of motion
  • Musculoskeletal Ultrasound: These can help diagnose sprains, strains, inflammation, tendon tears, and/or trapped nerves
  • Bone Scan/DEXA scan: This is used to measure body composition, primarily bone density to monitor or diagnose osteoporosis


The x-ray is a fantastic tool for chiropractors. It helps them diagnose underlying issues and create a tailored treatment plan that is functional and accurate to help you get back to feeling like yourself.