Medical Q&As

X-ray - does it show joint cartilage?

I have just had an x-ray on my knee. Is it true that an x-ray will only show bone problems and not ligament or cartilage problems?

When an x-ray examination is performed x-rays pass through the body, which then form an image on the special x-ray film. Dense structures such as bone are radio-opaque, which means that they are impenetrable to x-rays and consequently they are revealed as white images on the x-ray film. Less dense structures such as ligaments and cartilage are less radio-opaque, which means that x-rays pass right through them and their outline does not show up on the x-ray film. Therefore it is possible to have a normal result following x-ray examination of the knee and yet have severe damage to a knee ligament or cartilage. X-ray examination is an excellent investigative tool but it does have its limitations.