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Carrington College Blog

How to Position a Patient for an X-Ray

April 5, 2017

If you ever need to get an X-ray, it’s important to make sure that your doctors get a clear picture. Carrington College Medical Radiography program [1] student Alyssa shows us how radiologic technologists (X-ray technicians) make sure patients are properly positioned for an abdomen X-ray.

What is an X-ray?

X-rays are a type of radiation that are focused into a beam. Think of a flashlight beam that can see though most objects, including your body. The X-rays form an image when they hit a detector and the detector sends the picture to a computer.

Bones, for example, are very dense and block many of the X-rays, that’s why they look white on an X-ray. Doctors can see a break when they see a gray line. Less dense parts of your insides, like organs, block fewer X-rays and look like shades of gray on an X-ray.

What’s an abdominal X-ray?

An abdominal X-ray is a picture of the insides of your belly – your abdomen. It shows your stomach, liver, spleen, intestines and your diaphragm…that’s the muscle that separates your chest and stomach areas. If a patient has belly pain, swelling or unexplained sickness, a doctor may ask for an abdominal X-ray to check for the cause. X-rays are often taken in different positions and on different machines.

Why do you do the standing up X-rays first?

The view from standing up [erect view] X-rays can help find a blockage, or a perforation [hole] in the stomach or an intestine that is leaking air.

“We check air-fluid levels in the body; patients need to stand up for a certain amount of time so it’s perfect to do these first,” explained Medical Radiography student Alyssa.

How do you position someone for a standing-up X-ray?

“The patient will be positioned erect against a board [the detector]; they’ll be facing it so I’m looking at their back. We make sure that the patient’s shoulders are rolled forward, up out of the way, so that they’re not obstructing anything we want to see, and that they are standing up straight,” said Alyssa.

“They will take a deep breath in, blow it all the way out, then take another deep breath in and hold it so we can see everything, the diaphragm and all that. We make sure we place the right markers so we know which side we’re looking at, that’s very important,” she explained.

It’s important that patients hold their breath, so that the tech can get a nice clear image with no motion. Anyone that’s ever taken a photo knows that motion causes blurring.

“Also important is the shielding, the lead apron. It makes sure that the patient is exposed to minimum radiation,” Alyssa added.

Why is it important that the patient’s shoulders are rolled forward?

“So the scapulas [shoulder blades] up front are out of the view, and we can see what we want to see without anything being in the way!” explained the X-ray tech in training.

Is there a second standing X-ray?

Often two X-rays will be taken from different positions for different views as Alyssa explains.

“This time they’ll still be on the board, but they’ll be facing me. We’ll have the detector that is exposed to the X-rays a little lower this time. This one we have them take a deep breath in, blow it all the way out, and hold it out.”

What’s the difference when they hold their breath in, or blow it out for an X-ray?

“It’s all about the position of the diaphragm, whether you want it higher or lower, and that depends on what you want to see,” said Alyssa.

When you’re positioning someone for an X-ray it’s very important that the patient has their hips a certain way, and their shoulders aligned. Alyssa explains why that matters.

“In this particular X-ray we want them straight, no rotation or anything, so we can see everything. When we do want rotation we want to make sure that the body is correctly rotated, so it’s not overlapping anything we want to see,” explained Alyssa.

To learn more about the Medical Radiography program at Carrington College, click here.

[1] Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rate of students who attended this program can be found at

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