When To Get an X-Ray on Your Foot

May 23, 2024 1:59:02 AM / by Chad Hutchison

Foot X-rays are the most common method podiatrists use to diagnose injuries and other conditions. If a patient is unable to take four steps on their foot without support, that’s a sure sign an X-ray, also called a radiograph, is needed. 

Furthermore, an X-ray should be done if there’s significant pain in the 5th metatarsal bone or the navicular bone on the outside and inside of the feet, respectively.

Let’s examine in more detail when a foot X-ray should be done. 

What Is a Foot X-Ray?

A foot X-ray uses electromagnetic radiation to create an image that shows the soft tissues and bones in the foot, including the ankle (tarsal) bones, the bones in the front end of your foot (metatarsal bones), and your toes (phalanges). The X-rays are differentially absorbed by bones so that they appear white. 

At the same time, soft tissues allow electromagnetic radiation to pass through and appear grey, with the rest of the image in black. This produces a black-and-white image that radiologists and podiatrists examine to diagnose medical conditions in the feet. 

When Should Patients Seek a Foot X-Ray?

There are numerous ways that X-rays are used in podiatry to diagnose injuries and conditions and aid in providing treatment. If you’re unsure if a patient needs a foot radiograph, here are some things to look for.

The Four-Step Rule

The four-step rule states if a patient cannot bear weight for four straight steps after an injury, this is a sure sign that an X-ray is necessary. This could indicate a fracture or something else serious that can easily be diagnosed using a radiograph. Other less serious injuries typically allow the patient to bear some weight without support. 

The 5th Metatarsal

A radiograph is also necessary if there’s tenderness at the base of the 5th metatarsal bone (found on the outside of the feet) and they’re having difficulty taking steps. Even if they can bear weight but have severe pain, it’s a good idea to have imaging done to rule out anything serious. 

Tenderness in The Navicular Bone

Suppose there’s pain or tenderness in the navicular bone (found on the inside of the feet). In that case, a radiograph is also warranted, especially if there’s also difficulty bearing weight or additional pain in the 5th metatarsal. 

Obvious Deformities

A radiograph is necessary if there’s an obvious deformity, bones at odd angles, or significant and persistent swelling that does not go away. 

When in Doubt

Sometimes, the patient or podiatrist may be unsure if the pain or tenderness is serious enough to warrant a radiograph. Since radiographic imaging is safe and painless, having radiographs done might be a good idea, even if it’s just to give your patient peace of mind. 

What Should Patients Expect During a Foot X-Ray?

Patients with pain in their feet should see a podiatrist for diagnosis. The podiatrist will send the patient to an X-ray room and place their leg on a table, possibly positioned with sandbag pillows, to prevent movement and ensure comfort. Technologists may place a lead apron on the patient’s lap to protect their internal organs. 

They’ll then take high-quality radiographs using podiatry X-ray machines to create black-and-white images of the bones and soft tissues. Usually, multiple pictures are taken from different angles to ensure a good overall image of the entire foot.

Once complete, the radiographs are processed using advanced digital software to produce high-quality images. The radiologists and the podiatrist then examine the images to diagnose the problem. The podiatrist then discusses the results with the patient so they can move on to treatment options. 

Frequently Asked Questions

When Should You Get an X-Ray After a Foot Injury?

If you can’t take four steps on your foot without support, then an X-ray is needed. Furthermore, even if you can take four steps but there’s significant tenderness in the 5th metatarsal bone or the navicular bone, the outside and inside of the feet, respectively, then radiographic imaging is needed.

Final Thoughts

Here at Maven Imaging, we care about your patient’s health. If your patient cannot bear weight for four steps, or they have serious pain in the 5th metatarsal or navicular bones, they should have a radiograph. 

Maven Imaging’s Podiatry X-ray Machines will produce high-quality images to enable rapid and accurate diagnosis. Then, you can help your patient feel better so they can get back on their feet and enjoy life again.

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.