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When Might I Need an X-Ray at Urgent Care?

Urgent care centers offer a convenient option for getting medical attention for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses.  They often have shorter wait times than emergency rooms and can provide a wider range of services than a typical doctor's office visit.  

One of the advantages of urgent care is that some centers have on-site X-ray capabilities.  This can be a game-changer when a quick diagnosis is needed.  But how do you know if an X-ray is necessary for your urgent care visit?

Understanding X-Rays

An X-ray is a type of imaging test that uses invisible electromagnetic radiation to create pictures of the inside of your body.  It passes through different tissues at varying rates. Denser tissues, like bones, block more of the imaging tests, appearing white on the image. Soft tissues, like muscles and organs, allow more to pass through, appearing gray. By looking at these grayscale images, doctors can identify abnormalities within the body.

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Common Reasons for X-Rays at Urgent Care

While X-rays are not a one-size-fits-all diagnostic tool, they are a valuable resource for urgent care physicians in a variety of situations. Here are some of the most common reasons why you might need it during your urgent care visit.


This is perhaps the most common reason for an X-ray at urgent care.  If you experience a sudden impact, fall, or twisting injury, this diagnostic scan can help determine if a bone is broken.  Symptoms of a fracture can include pain, swelling, bruising, difficulty moving the affected area, and deformity.

Joint Injuries:  

X-rays can be used to assess sprains, strains, and dislocations.  While sprains and strains involve stretching or tearing of ligaments or tendons, dislocations occur when a bone is forced out of its normal position in the joint. An imaging test can help differentiate between these injuries and guide treatment decisions.

Foreign Objects:  

If you suspect you have swallowed or lodged a foreign object somewhere in your body, a radiological exam can help locate it. This is especially important for children who may accidentally ingest small objects.


While X-rays cannot diagnose arthritis itself, they can reveal changes in bones and joints that are consistent with this condition.  This information can be helpful in developing a treatment plan.

Certain Infections:  

In some cases, X-rays can be used to identify infections in the bones or lungs.  For example, an imaging test of the chest can help diagnose pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.

Digestive Issues:  

X-rays may be used to investigate digestive problems such as bowel obstructions or constipation. A diagnostic scan of the abdomen can show blockages or impactions within the digestive tract.

When Might an X-Ray Not Be Necessary?

While radiological exams are a valuable tool, they are not always necessary in urgent care.  Here are some situations where this diagnostic scan might not be used:

Soft Tissue Injuries:  

X-rays are not effective for imaging soft tissues like muscles, ligaments, or tendons.  Ultrasound or MRI scans may be more appropriate for these types of injuries.

Minor Injuries:  

For minor injuries with minimal pain and swelling, this procedure may not be necessary.  The doctor may be able to diagnose the problem based on a physical examination and your medical history.

Certain Medical Conditions:  

X-rays are not helpful for diagnosing conditions like the flu, earaches, or sore throats.

What to Expect During a Radiological Exam at Urgent Care

If your doctor determines an imaging test is necessary, the process is typically quick and painless.  Here's a general idea of what to expect:


You will likely be asked to remove any jewelry or clothing that could interfere with the image.  Depending on the area being X-rayed, you may need to wear a gown.


A technician will position you on the radiological exam table.  It is important to remain still during the procedure to ensure a clear image.

Taking the X-ray:  

The technician will step behind a protective barrier and operate the machine.  The radiological exam itself only takes a few seconds.

Reviewing the Results:  

The image will be digitally captured and reviewed by the doctor. They will discuss the results with you and explain what they mean for your diagnosis and treatment plan.

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Important Considerations

While these diagnostic scans are a safe and effective diagnostic tool, it is important to be aware of some potential drawbacks:

Radiation Exposure 

Although the amount of radiation from a single X-ray is low, repeated imaging tests can increase your cumulative radiation exposure.  This is especially important for pregnant women and young children, as they are more sensitive to the effects of radiation.  If you are pregnant or think you might be pregnant, be sure to inform your doctor before undergoing a radiological exam.  They can discuss the risks and benefits and determine if an imaging test is truly necessary.

Accuracy Limitations:  

X-rays provide a two-dimensional image of your body.  This can sometimes make it difficult to see certain details or distinguish between overlapping structures.  In some cases, additional imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs may be needed for a more definitive diagnosis.

Alternatives to X-Rays

In some situations, there may be alternative imaging tests available at urgent care that do not involve radiation exposure.  Here are a few examples:

  • Ultrasound:  This imaging technique uses sound waves to create images of your body's organs and soft tissues.  Ultrasound is a safe and painless option for pregnant women and young children.
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging):  MRIs use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of your organs, soft tissues, and bones.  MRIs do not involve ionizing radiation but may not be suitable for people with certain medical implants or claustrophobia.

The Bottom Line

X-rays are a valuable tool for urgent care physicians, helping them diagnose a variety of injuries and illnesses.  If your doctor recommends this diagnostic scan during your visit,  don't hesitate to ask questions about the potential benefits and risks.  Understanding the reasons for the imaging test and the available alternatives can empower you to make informed decisions about your healthcare.

Additional Tips

  • Be prepared to discuss your medical history with the doctor. This will help them determine the most appropriate course of action for your situation.
  • Bring a list of any medications you are currently taking. This information can be helpful for the doctor when interpreting your radiological exam results.
  • If you have any concerns about radiation exposure, be sure to discuss them with your doctor. They can help you weigh the risks and benefits of a radiological exam.

By following these tips, you can ensure a smooth and informative experience during your urgent care visit,  including any of these procedures that may be necessary.

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Get Back on Top: Why Choose Urgent Care of the Palm Beaches?

Don't let an injury be your opponent any longer. At Urgent Care of the Palm Beaches, our team is here to get you back to the activities you love. Our urgent care offers a winning combination of speed, convenience, and expertise to get you back in the game. Plus, all our locations have urgent care with x-ray on site, so we can quickly diagnose and treat your injury.

We have convenient locations:

Walk in today or schedule your appointment now. Get started on your recovery. 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

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