The local environment of light emitting silicon nanocrystals (Si-nc) embedded in amorphous SiO2 has been studied by x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and by ab-initio total energy calculations. Si-nc have been formed by PECVD deposition of SiOx with different Si content (from 35 to 42 at.%) and thermal annealing at high temperature (1250 °C). The comparison between total electron yield (TEY) and photoluminescence yield (PLY) spectra has allowed the identification of a modified region of SiO2 (about 1 nm thick) surrounding the Si-nc, which participates to the light emission of Si-nc. Total energy calculations, within the density functional theory, clearly show that Si-nc are surrounded by a cap-shell of stressed SiO2 with a thickness of about 1 nm. The optoelectronic properties show the appearance of localized states not only in the Si-nc core region but also in the modified SiO2 region.