Will My Spinal Surgery Hardware Set Off the Metal Detector?
Will My Spinal Hardware Set Off the Metal Detector in the Airport?
Since 9/11 the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has worked dutifully to increase airport security. This increase in security has led many patients to wonder if the instrumentation used in their spinal surgery could set off airport metal detectors and require them to undergo additional screening. The most basic answer for individuals undergoing spine surgery is: no, this scenario is unlikely.
There are two forms of metal detectors used by TSA at screening checkpoints. The first form is arch way metal detectors, which are very rarely sensitive enough to pick up on the instrumentation used in spinal surgery. The second form are hand-held metal detectors which are much more sensitive and likely to be set off, but because of their heightened sensitivity to all objects, including zippers and buttons it is unlikely that any further explanation or screening will be required by TSA even if they detect spinal instrumentation (Chinwalla & Grevitt, 2012).
Part of the reason why it is unlikely for spine surgery patients to set off these alarms is because of the nature of the instrumentation used in spinal surgeries. Unlike joint replacement surgeries where the instrumentation for a knee or hip is much larger, spinal surgery equipment is relatively small. Additionally, the materials used in spinal surgery, commonly titanium or synthetic materials, are less likely to set off metal detectors (Fabricant et al, 2013). For all of these reasons we anticipate that our patients will not require further screenings at airports. We have found over the years that special hardware ID cards or medical letters tend to be of limited use in expediting airport security. Safe travels!