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Will My Spinal Hardware Set off Airport Security Detectors?

June 17, 2015 in Article, Tips,
Posted by Virginia Spine Institute
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Some spinal surgeries require internal fixation, meaning hardware to be inserted in the body for the procedure. This spinal hardware may be artificial discs, plates with screws, or larger screws with rods. The hardware is needed in order to increase the ability for the body to heal without having to wear a large external cast, or to aid in improving the alignment or deformity of the spine.

One of the most common questions we get from patients who undergo surgery is whether or not the hardware in their spine will set off metal detectors in the airport.

It is very unlikely that someone who has had surgery in the past few years using instrumentation made out of titanium and other metals currently used in surgery that TSA screening would set off the metal detector.

Nearly ten years ago, when stainless steel and other metals were frequently used, between 40-50% of patients with orthopaedic metal hardware would set off the metal detector. Particularly patients who have lower extremity hardware, these patients have had a ten time greater detection rate than upper extremity or spine implants. Also, ten years ago over 90% of total knee and total hip replacements were detected. However, a more recent study comparing patients who have had scoliosis surgery before 2008 and then after 2008 discovered that the more recent patients with the significant amount of hardware placed with scoliosis patients did not trigger modern metal detectors.

The new full body millimeter scanners are designed to look to the skin and do not go deeper than the skin. The new monitors may not even set off metal detectors as they cannot see through the skin to see what implants might be in place. Metal detectors, however, still could trigger with an implant. The TSA itself states that you can get a TSA card or a card from your physician, so that you can let the TSA agent know that you have an implant. However, that does not excuse you from not going through the metal detector or getting a pat down examination or using a hand wand.

Most recent joint replacements do not set off the alarms, compared to over ten years ago. Also, most spinal implants do not set off the alarms.

In summary, if you have had surgery within the last eight to ten years, you very likely have implants which are made out of titanium or other currently used metals. The older implants made out of stainless steel more likely will set off scanners then the new ones. In any case, if you set off the scanner, you can easily pass through with a hand wand and examination by the TSA agent.

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