Contrary to popular belief, x-rays have not been superseded by MRI and CT scans. While x-rays have been overused in the past, they do give valuable information not readily available from other tests. X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation and can be harmful if overused. We all receive radiation which exists in the background. It is widely quoted that we receive the same amount of radiation per annum just by living on planet Earth as we receive by a single chest x-ray. However, the amount of radiation required to image the spine by x-rays is approximately 100 times more. Thus, x-rays should be used sparingly.
Deformities of the spine, such as a scoliosis, are better shown by x-rays. Instability or abnormal motion is also better seen with x-rays, particularly if the films are taken with the patient standing or in a flexed position. X-rays will give an idea of the quality of the bones and the anatomy is often best visualized by x-rays. Scans can sometimes be too detailed and an obvious abnormality overlooked.