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X-Ray Exam: Foot

What's an X-Ray?

An X-ray is a safe and painless test that uses a small amount of radiation to make an image of bones, organs, and other parts of the body.

The X-ray image is black and white. Dense body parts, such as bones, block the passage of the X-ray beam through the body. These look white on the X-ray image. Softer body tissues, such as the skin and muscles, allow the X-ray beams to pass through them. They look darker on the image.

X-rays are commonly done in doctors’ offices, radiology departments, imaging centers, and dentists’ offices.

What's a Foot X-Ray?

In a foot X-ray, an X-ray machine sends a beam of radiation through the foot, and an image is recorded on special X-ray film or a computer. This image shows the soft tissues and bones of the foot, which include the tarsal bones (back end of the foot), metatarsal bones (front end of foot), and phalanges (toes).

An X-ray technician will take pictures of the foot: 

  • from the front (anteroposterior view or AP)
  • from the side (lateral view)
  • at an angle (oblique view)

Occasionally doctors request X-rays of the opposite (uninjured) foot for comparison.

Foot X-rays are done while a child sits on the table. They should stay still for 2–3 seconds while each X-ray is taken so the images are clear. If an image is blurred, the X-ray technician might take another one.

Why Are Foot X-Rays Done?

The foot X-ray can help doctors find the cause of pain, tenderness, swelling, or deformities. It can show broken bones or dislocated joints. After a broken bone has been set, an X-ray can show if the bones are aligned and if they have healed properly.

An X-ray can help doctors plan surgery, when needed, and check the results after it. It also can help to detect cysts, tumors, and later-stage infections of the bones.

What if I Have Questions?

If you have questions about the foot X-ray or what the results mean, talk to your doctor.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: Mar 20, 2022

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