For the 80% of people in the U.S. with back pain, some may have to resort to surgery to help relieve the pain and fix the underlying problem. Over 600,000 spinal surgeries are performed every year in the United States and unfortunately, for those patients, this also means increased x-ray radiation exposure, both before and after surgery.

While x-rays are only used when necessary and are generally considered safe, there are small risks from repeated exposure to them. notes that “the tiny amount of radiation exposure should always be considerably outweighed by the benefits for the patient.”

Even though they are fairly safe, undergraduates at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey developed a new tool for minimizing the amount of x-rays needed by back pain patients.  

In an article published in Technology and Innovation–Proceedings of the National Academy of Inventors, Kerri Killen and Samantha Music profiled their new evaluation device that could severely limit or eliminate the need for x-rays for back surgery. Their “electrogoniometer” uses three separate battery-powered devices to measure spinal movements and curvature. The device itself is worn like a vest and can be used during routine examinations, through the course of physical therapy, and for pre- and post-operative appointments. It is also easy to use, with little training needed on the part of the medical professional using the device.

Additionally, the decreased need for x-rays could lead to $5 billion in healthcare savings every year. 

Along with continued monitoring during physical therapy, the technology may also be used to help doctors determine when and if an injured patient can return to work. Killen and Music also note that its use could be expanded beyond back pain for use in movement evaluations in the hips, shoulders, knees, and wrists.

Have you undergone an x-ray during a trip to a doctor? 

Image by Paul Stocker via Flicker


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