Radiographic anatomy is a branch within the discipline of anatomy which involves the study of anatomy through the use of radiographic films, also known as x-rays. Medical students typically spend some time studying radiographic anatomy during their general educations, and certain medical specialists may go on to study it extensively, such as radiographers, orthopedic surgeons, and dentists. Numerous textbooks of radiographic anatomy are available for people to utilize to further their knowledge of this particular field of study.
As with anatomy in general, one of the major goals of radiographic anatomy is to accurately identify and describe physical structures in the body. For example, the radiographic anatomy of the hand involves the identification of numerous small bones in the hand, their function, and their proper location in healthy individuals.
People who are interested in studying the development of bone also find radiographic anatomy highly useful. As people age, their bones do as well, and numerous developmental changes which occur in the bone over time can be documented with radiographic anatomy. For example, radiographs of certain bones at different ages can reveal the progressive conversion of cartilage into bone. This information can be used to determine someone's age, and to detect signs that someone's bones are not developing normally.
Radiographic anatomy can also cover the study of abnormalities, ranging from deformities to broken bones. A skilled radiographer can pick up a great deal of information from a radiographic film, relying on years of perusal of both normal and abnormal films. In addition to being used to view bone, radiographic anatomy can also involve the study of other structures and pathologies which may be visible on an x-ray, such as intestinal blockages or fluid in the lungs.
Studying films also allows people who operate x-ray machines to see how they need to position patients to get clear images. Positioning is critical, as if a patient is not positioned correctly, other anatomical structures may obscure the area of interest, or the entire area of interest may not be visible on the film. Since medical professionals want to avoid exposing people to radiation unnecessarily, they try to get films right the first time for patient safety.
Several radiographic anatomy departments at universities have put their collections of films online, as a resource for members of the public and for students. These collections often include a number of reference samples, such as radiographic films demonstrating bone development, along with specific case studies which may be of interest.