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Radiography, X-ray, Neck, Plain Cervical Spinal Radiographs

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When an injury or disease process is thought to involve the spinal column of the equine neck, neck (cervical) radiographs are often needed to rule out fracture or other bony injury. Vets refer to these as plain cervical films, to distinguish them from myelogram, which is sometimes needed to provide additional information.

Neck radiographs are typically taken with the horse standing and sedated. An image capture plate (digital or film-screen) is placed on one side of the neck and x-rays are generated from the other side with an x-ray machine. An image is generated. Every attempt is made to keep the horse very still as movement can affect image quality. In most cases, 3-5 images are taken to ensure visualization of all the bones of the cervical column. These images show the vertebrae from the base of the skull to C7, as well as the inter-vertebral joints.

An experienced radiologist or clinician takes measurements and creates ratios to determine whether or not there is compression.

Benefits

These radiographs are typically helpful in diagnosing fracture, arthritis, and some types of cervical compression.

Unlike myelogram, which requires general anesthesia, plain cervical radiographs are performed in a standing sedated patient.

Limitations

Plain radiographs (without myelogram) are of limited value in diagnosing compression of the spinal cord, except in severe cases.

The quality of the images depends on good technique, equipment and experience.

X-ray does not show soft tissue. Diagnostic information is mostly limited to bone.

Generally, cervical radiographs are usually only taken from the side (lateral), providing only 2 dimensional information.

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QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • If the plain cervical radiographs are negative, does this mean that my horse does not have spinal compression?
  • Based on the results of this diagnostic, do you recommend myelogram?
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    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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