Radiation protection of medical staff in orthopedic surgery

» How much radiation is safe for me?

There are radiation dose limits for staff recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) that most countries tend to adopt. Currently the level is 20 mSv/year (actually 100 mSv in 5 years - not to exceed 50 mSv in any one year). This dose limit is based on the calculation of radiation risk over a full working life from the age of 18 years to 65 years (47 years) at the rate of 20 mSv per year, amounting to 20x47= 0.94 Sv and resulting in an excess cancer risk of 1 in 1000. Most orthopaedic surgeons using radiation protection devices and tools will have a radiation dose below typically 2 mSv/year.

Table 1: Approximate dose to the surgeon per procedure (µSv) with 0.5 mm lead apron worn*

Procedure Dose to the Surgeon per procedure (µSv) Screening Time
Hip 5 25 sec/patient
Spine 21 2 min/patient
Kyphoplasty 250 10 min/patient

* Occupational exposure from common fluoroscopic projections used in orthopedic Surgery.

» Is the dose to orthopaedic surgeons much higher than other interventionalists?


The radiation dose to orthopaedic and trauma surgeons in most routine procedures is much smaller than those performing cardiac interventions.

» Is there a risk of cataract after several years of work in an orthopaedic operating room?

Very unlikely. Proper use of radiation protection tools and techniques can prevent deterministic effects such as cataract and can avoid any significant increase in probability of cancer risk for many years to cover the full professional life. To date, there have been no reports of radiation induced cataract among orthopaedic surgeons, however such reports do exist for interventional radiologists and cardiologists.

» Can I work my full professional life with radiation in the operating room and have no radiation effects?

Yes it is possible. Under optimized conditions when

  • the equipment is periodically tested and it is operating properly;
  • personal protective devices (lead apron of suitable lead equivalence of 0.25 to 0.5 mm and wrap around type, protective eye wear or protective shields are used for the head/face and leg regions);
  • use of personnel monitoring devices is implemented to estimate radiation exposure; 
  • proper techniques are employed as in Question 3 above. 

It is possible to achieve a smaller risk of radiation effects for a full professional life using the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) principle. There are situations where protection of patients poses a great challenge, but this is not so much the case for staff, where protection can be reasonably achieved. 

» What are the typical radiation doses associated with orthopaedic procedures?

Typical values in terms of effective doses are presented in Table 2 below.

Table 2: Mean effective doses from Orthopaedic procedures

Procedure Mean
number of
PA chest
(each 0.02 mSv)
extremities [ME]
0.001 0.05
Knee [ME] 0.005 0.25
Shoulder [ME] 0.01 0.5
Sternum [HA] 0.01 0.5
TM joint [HA] 0.012 0.6
Skull [ME] 0.1 5
Arthrography [HA] 0.17 8.5
Spine [ME]
0.2 10
joint [HA]
0.34 17
Upper extremity
angiography [BO]
0.56 28
Pelvis [ME] 0.6 30
Hip [ME] 0.7 35
Spine [ME]
1 50
Spine [ME]
1.5 75
Myelography [HA] 2.46 123
angiography [BO]
3.5 175
aortography [HA]
4.1 205
arteriography [HA]
7.1 355