Radiography is the process of taking X-rays and interpreting the results.
Radiographs commonly known as x-rays are used to evaluate bones and joints. Digital equipment now allows us to process pictures immediately onto a laptop screen and it provides a vast improvement in image quality enabling the detection of even very subtle changes. Just like your cell phone technology improves constantly so does the digital imaging in radiograph technology continues to improve!
For the most part all veterinarians have their own systematic approach of taking radiographs but in general this is what you should expect when you and your veterinarian choose to take x-rays of a particular area in your horse.
We take “standard” views.
For instance, if we are radiographing a hock, it is common to take a front to back picture, two side to side pictures (one with the hock flexed and one with the hock in standing position), and two diagonal pictures.
With each of those views, we try to take a specific angle (45 degrees, 65 degrees, etc.).
We strive to take a complete series when we are looking at a bone.
This is a big deal because sometimes owners try to talk the vet into “just taking a few shots” in an attempt to pay less money. The problem is you’re not getting a complete picture, and if you’re not getting a complete picture you might as well not shoot any x-rays.
The next question you are asking is OK well how much will x-rays cost?
In general x-rays are charged by the view, some vets will charge by the series meaning for example a typical fetlock ( ankle ) series is 5 views and therefore they set a price for those five views often less per view then if you choose to ask for say two views.
What is the veterinarian looking for when they take x-rays?
There are literally dozens of things that the veterinarian evaluates when viewing radiographs. Most commonly, of course, we look for evidence of arthritis. If a joint is inflamed for long enough, the bones will start to change by either dissolving away or laying down more (aka “bone spurs”). Sometimes, they do a mix of both.
If we see something suspicious, we try to visualize it on more than one view before we declare it to be real. Radiographs are famous for having “artifacts” on them. An artifact can show up in the form of a shadow or an apparent mass that is not actually part of the bone. In order for us to determine if what we are seeing is real or fake, we try to see the suspicious image on more than one view. If we can see it on several views, we can approximate its location and improve our confidence that it is indeed real.
Since the x-rays are instant will I get my diagnosis right then and there?
What you should get is a tentative diagnosis. Yes we can see the images as we take them but your vet should go back and reevaluate them in a dark, quiet room. It’s amazing how much a dark room can bring out new radiographic findings. For those using digital technology, it can sometimes be tempting to read radiographs right there on the farm, but glare from the sun can rob the image of a lot of detail. For this reason, and because we sometimes need our text books or another trained set of eyes, many vets try to sit down in a non-distracted setting and study the images closely.
X-rays are a valuable asset and key tool in diagnosing a multitude of problems in horses.
Digital equipment now allows us to process pictures immediately onto a laptop screen for instant interpretation on site. The images are stored on a database at the practice which enables further evaluation on a large high definition screen when necessary. Digital radiography provides a vast improvement in image quality enabling the detection of even very subtle changes.Digital format has made it possible for us to email pictures for second opinions in an instant.
There are certain requirements to be met when we X-ray horses at a stable or on farm. These are as follows:
- Power must be easily accessible
- Area should be dry and protected from the elements (rain, wind etc)
- The surface should be firm and level (preferably paved or concrete)
- Area should be spacious enough to comfortably accommodate 3 people, 1 horse and the equipment
- A handler and second person must be available to assist the Vet
- The horse will be sedated for the procedure
- Protective X-ray clothing MUST be worn by all persons involved
- Pregnant women and persons younger than 16 shall not be allowed to assist when taking X-rays