Does An X-Ray Show Disc Problems?

May 25, 2024 6:15:00 AM / by Chad Hutchison

X-rays are invaluable tools that doctors and radiologists use to diagnose and assist in treating countless medical conditions. However, when it comes to problems with soft tissues like the discs in your spine, the answer is not a simple yes or no. 

If the condition is severe enough, an X-ray will show disc problems. However, additional imaging techniques may be necessary for milder cases, such as injecting contrast dyes or equipment like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Will An X-Ray Show Disc Problems?

A chiropractic X-ray can help diagnose numerous back problems, including disc bulges and herniations. If the disc problem is advanced enough, an X-ray alone will work, but for milder problems, additional imaging procedures may be necessary. 

What Does An X-Ray Show?

An X-ray shows bones in detail since they are denser and absorb more X-rays than organs and soft tissues that allow them to pass through. X-rays are invaluable for diagnosing fractures and other bone problems and enable medical professionals to detect many problems with soft tissues. Using less direct methods may result in misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatments. 

X-rays and other imaging techniques, especially those using newer digital radiology techniques, are critical to reveal the source of disc-related problems

However, X-rays may need to be combined with other medical imaging procedures, including injection of contrast dyes or specialized equipment like CT and MRI scans to accurately diagnose or monitor conditions involving soft tissues, including spinal discs.

How Do X-Rays Work?

X-rays are a diagnostic tool used by radiologists trained to make quality X-ray images using high-energy electromagnetic radiation. These high-energy X-rays penetrate human tissues to varying degrees. More dense materials like bones absorb more energy and appear white in the image. In contrast, less dense materials like soft tissues and organs will absorb less and appear as shades of gray. 

This differential absorption creates contrast in the images, allowing radiologists and doctors to observe internal structures in your body without the need for invasive exploratory surgery. These images enable doctors to quickly and safely diagnose and monitor conditions like problems in your spine.

Procedure for X-Rays of the Spine

Getting an X-ray of the spine is a routine, safe, noninvasive procedure qualified professionals can safely and quickly perform.

  • First, remove all jewelry, clothing, or metal objects since these will interfere with the imaging procedure. 
  • Next, you will either lie down or stand up to have the images taken, depending on your comfort and the location of the issue. 
  • Multiple images get taken and processed using traditional film methods or, more often, more efficient X-ray imaging software
  • The radiologist will examine the image results and analyze them. 
  • Sometimes, additional tests, such as CT or MRI, are ordered to diagnose abnormalities.
  • Your doctor will discuss the results and future treatment options. 

Different Imaging Machines


X-rays use high-energy electromagnetic radiation to show details of bones and, to a lesser degree, organs and soft tissues, including discs. They produce a contrast image that is essential to aid in diagnostics.


Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine utilizes radio waves through a strong magnetic field to display detailed images of soft tissues. These images can provide a clearer view of a disc problem and aid your doctor in developing a treatment plan. 


A Computed Tomography (CT) scan is the use of multiple X-rays taken from different angles and computer technology to display images of tissue or bones, helping to diagnose spinal problems. 


Computed Radiography (CR) is an advanced digital alternative to traditional X-ray film. It uses photostimulable phosphor (PSP) plates to capture detailed images that undergo digital processing to create a high-quality visual signal faster than traditional film-based techniques. 


Discography is an imaging technique where a contrast dye gets injected into the disc before someone undergoes an X-ray or CT scan. The contrast dye allows them to detect disc problems better.


Myelograms are similar to discographies in that they also use a contrast dye, but in this case, the dye is injected into the spinal fluid and followed by either X-rays or CT scans. This method diagnoses disc problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can an X-Ray Show a Damaged Disk?

X-rays can show bulges and herniations when a spinal disk is damaged severely enough. In only mild stages of the disease, additional imaging techniques like discography using contrast dyes or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be necessary to diagnose the problem accurately.

Is an X-Ray or MRI Better for a Herniated Disk?

An X-ray can diagnose a severe herniated disc quickly and efficiently. However, milder conditions may require additional imaging techniques, like discography, which injects contrast dye into the disc to view it better. MRIs are a more expensive but noninvasive option that is useful for diagnosing soft tissue problems like mildly herniated discs.

Final Thoughts

X-rays are invaluable tools for helping healthcare professionals diagnose spinal problems. However, additional equipment like CT and MRI is sometimes needed to aid in diagnosing disc problems, especially when the disease is not so severe that it quickly shows up on a standard X-ray.

Maven Imaging has all the essential digital X-ray equipment and imaging tools for your clinic. With these, you can quickly move your patients from diagnostics to treatment. 

Tags: x-ray

Chad Hutchison

Written by Chad Hutchison

Founder and CEO of Maven Imaging, Chad Hutchison has been in the medical imaging equipment market since 2003. As his business grew, he pioneered buying and selling medical equipment online and eventually began offering leasing and financing to meet market demands and help customers. His market expertise goes beyond traditional medical imaging and finance support, as he’s spearheading cloud-based lending solutions for vendors across the sector.