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X-Ray Exam: Ankle

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 an Ankle X-Ray?

In an ankle X-ray, an X-ray machine sends a beam of radiation through the ankle joint. The joint is made up of the ends of the leg bones (tibia and fibula) and a small bone between the heel and the lower leg (talus bone).

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

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

Ankle X-rays usually are done while a child is lying down. 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 Ankle X-Rays Done?

An ankle X-ray can help doctors find the cause of pain, tenderness, and swelling, or deformity of the ankle joint. It can show broken bones or a dislocated joint. 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, later stage infections, fluid in the joint, and other diseases in the ankle bones.

Depending on the X-ray results, a follow-up radiology test like a CAT scan or MRI might be needed.

The doctor also might order a stress X-ray to check how tightly the ligaments are holding the ankle together. To do this, the doctor or technician stretches the ankle joint while the X-ray is taken to see if the pressure moves the bones apart.

What if I Have Questions?

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

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: March 2022