Updated 22 September 2015

X-ray, neck

A neck X-ray is an imaging test to look at the seven neck (cervical) bones.


Alternative names:

Cervical spine X-ray, X-ray c-spine, c-spine films

What is a neck X-ray?

A neck X-ray is an imaging test to look at the seven neck (cervical) bones. It can also be used to assess the soft tissue of the neck.

What are the common uses of the procedure?

  • Most commonly to evaluate neck injuries (check for fractures or dislocations)
  • To find a cause for ongoing neck pain, numbness or weakness in the arms, hands or fingers
  • To check for arthritis of the neck bones (vertebrae) and breakdown (degeneration) of the disks between them
  • To check for other spinal abnormalities such as infections, tumors, bony spurs or problems from birth (congenital)
  • To assess the soft tissue of the neck for soft tissue masses or abscesses
  • To evaluate changes in the neck after neck surgery

How should I prepare?

Before the test you should tell the radiographer if you are or may be pregnant.

You may need to take off any jewellery that will be in the way of the X-ray image.

You may need to remove some of your clothing if it will interfere with the procedure.

Generally no prior preparation is necessary.

How is the procedure performed?

The test is usually performed in a radiology department by a radiology technologist (radiographer) or healthcare provider.

The procedure may vary depending on your condition and your referring doctor's practices, but usually you will lie on an X-ray table with the X-ray machine positioned over the neck area, or you will stand in front of the X-ray machine.

You will be asked to hold your breath while the X-ray pictures are taken, so that the picture will not be blurry.

You will be asked to change position so that different views can be taken depending on the problem.

If the X-rays are taken for a possible serious injury special care will be taken to prevent any further injury. You may be accompanied by another doctor to assist in controlling the position during the procedure.

Usually 3-5 pictures are taken.

The radiographer will step behind a protective window while the picture is taken.

A neck x-ray takes about 15 to 20 minutes. You may be asked to wait while the film is being developed in case more pictures need to be taken. X-rays can also be made immediately on a computer screen (digitally).

This examination does not cause any discomfort, however, the X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cold. If you have an injury or had recent surgery you may find that the positions you need to hold can be painful.


There is low radiation exposure, however X-rays are monitored and regulated to keep the procedure safe or within acceptable limits.

What are the limitations of the procedure?

Sometimes further imaging may be needed such as a CT scan in the case of a fracture or dislocation, and an MRI scan to evaluate the disks and spinal cord.


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