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Airport Security and Metal Implants

Metal Implants“Will the metal in my device set off metal detectors at the airport?” Especially since September 11, 2001, when airport security measures increased significantly, it’s been a common question for spinal implant patients. They’re concerned they may set off detectors, be subjected to more screening than their fellow travelers, and, of course, delay their travel.

Metal implants can include knee replacements, hip replacements, and other orthopedic implants. Implants are usually made of cobalt chrome, stainless steel, or titanium. The location of your implant, and what it’s made of, can both affect whether you set off a metal detector.

While there are some reports of airport metal detection rates of orthopedic implants generally, there have been few data regarding spinal implants specifically. A recent study of pediatric spinal fusion patients found that cobalt chrome implants set off metal detectors 24% of the time, while stainless steel implants went undetected. Past studies have also found that implants with cannulated screws and implants with high iron content are more likely to be detected.

A 2012 study showed that archway metal detectors do not detect modern spinal implants. Handheld metal detectors, on the other hand, detected all modern posterior spinal implants and anterior cervical plates and cages. The patient’s BMI and the density of the metal used in the implant did not influence the results. Low detection rates likely stem from the metal makeup of the implants: titanium rather than iron, which is used in many weapons and guns.

Knowing all this, how should you prepare? Your doctor may give you a card to carry that explains your implant. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) also has an official notification card for disabilities and medical conditions. Unfortunately, just having one of these cards won’t exempt you from screening, so you will be pulled aside for further screening if you set off a metal detector.

Here’s what the TSA says about metal implants:

  • You should tell a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) about your implant before screening begins.
  • You can ask to be screened by imaging technology instead of a metal detector.
  • If you choose not to be screened by imaging technology, or if you set off a walk-through metal detector, you will be screened by pat-down.

Some experts also recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing, so you can easily show security officers your surgical scar. While this may be helpful, it is not absolutely necessary.

Going through airport security can be stressful for anyone. However, your metal implant shouldn’t cause you too much of an extra hassle. Many people with metal implants pass through airport security every day, so security officers are accustomed to dealing with this issue.

Do your metal implants set off airport metal detectors? How do you prepare for it? Stop by my Facebook page and share your experience.