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Can you see or feel the hardware under the skin

Dr. John P. Lubicky

Chicago, IL
Shriner's Hospital for Children

Generally speaking, you cannot tell anything about the hardware under the intact skin. There are some very thin patients in whom parts of the hardware may cause a little bit of a prominence, but again, generally this isn't true. Also, the instrumentation comes in different sizes, and so for smaller, thinner patients, smaller sized implants will be used so that this does not happen.

Dr. Robert W. Molinari

Rochester, NY

You cannot see the hardware under the skin.

Dr. John T. Smith

University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Some patients, especially thin, adolescent women, will notice the hardware under the skin, particularly in the upper portion of the thoracic spine. In rare cases it is bothersome enough that after a fusion is established, the hardware requires removal. This occurs in a small percentage of patients however.

Dr. Dennis G. Crandall

Mesa, AZ

Spinal implants are positioned deep under muscle and skin, and they are not usually felt through the skin. Occasionally in extremely thin patients, the hardware can be felt beneath the skin and muscle.

Dr. James Mooney, III

Detroit, MI

Normally, the patient is unable to feel the hardware under the spine except in very thin patients there is no way to see any prominence or feel any prominence of the hardware itself.

Dr. Stephen Ondra

Chicago, IL

Every effort is made to place the hardware in a low enough profile that it is not prominent to avoid both skin irritation and the cosmetic issues of hardware that is visible under the skin. The thinner the patient, the more prominent the hardware will appear. Most patients can feel the hardware a little if they run their fingers over the skin in the thoracic spine. In the deeper areas of the lumbar spine, the hardware is typically not palpable or visible. The instrumentation is not readily apparent to simple observation.

Dr. Christopher L. Hamill

Buffalo General HospitalBuffalo General Hospital

If you are very thin then hardware can sometimes be felt.

Dr. Michael F. O'Brien

Denver Orthopaedics

In very thin people, occasionally the instrumentation can be felt by the patient under the skin when leaning against hard surfaces. Even in thin people the instrumentation is not visible from the outside by other individuals. When anterior scoliosis surgery is performed the rods and screws are contained within the chest cavity and therefore cannot be seen or felt by either the patient or others.

Dr. Patrick Bosch

Albuquerque, NM

Spinal instrumentation is positioned under the muscles and skin, so it generally cannot be felt or seen.

Dr. Thomas G. Lowe

Woodridge Orthopaedics & Spine Center, P.C.

When anterior instrumentation is used, you can not feel the instrumentation at all because it is deep under the skin and muscles and ribs. If posterior instrumentation is used in very small, thin patients, occasionally the instrumentation can be felt at the very top or bottom where it is implanted, but most of the time the instrumentation can not be felt under the skin.

Dr. Charles E. Johnston, II

Texas Scottish Rite Hospital Orthopedic Group

Usually not, although about one quarter of the patients have discomfort over the hardware posteriorly at some time after the operation.

Dr. Baron S. Lonner

New York, NY

For the vast majority of patients the hardware is not seen or felt. For very small and thin patients, it is possible that there may be a degree of prominence of the instrumentation. If this were bothersome, the instrumentation could be later removed. Removing instrumentation after a solid fusion is achieved has no negative effects. The fusion will hold the correction in the vast majority of patients except in adults with osteoporosis in whom some correction may be lost.

Dr. Scott J. Luhmann

St. Louis, MO

You cannot see the spinal implants under the skin. Occasionally, a thin individual may feel a prominent implant under the skin because of decreased muscle mass or subcutaneous tissue. Prominent implants are more common when the fusion is continued to the pelvis and the implants are screwed into the iliac wings.

Dr. David W. Polly, Jr.

Minneapolis, MN

You can't see the hardware (except on x-rays), in really thin patients, sometimes you can feel it if you push in the right place.

Dr. Frank J. Schwab

New York, NY

The instrumentation (hardware) is not visible from the outside. However, in very thin people, occasionally the instrumentation can be felt when pushing on the skin over the surgical area. When a scoliosis is corrected by surgery through the chest or abdomen, then the rods and screws are not seen or felt by either the patient or others.

Dr. Jean-Pierre C. Farcy

New York, NY
M.M.C. Spine Center

Usually the hardware used is low profile and is not felt under the skin, however with very skinny children it is possible to feel the posterior hardware under the skin.

Dr. W. Christopher Urban

Glen Burnie, MD

It would be very unusual for someone to be able to see the hardware. However, in thin individuals, the hardware can sometimes be felt by touch (palpated) in the upper back. Every effort is made to use low profile instrumentation that lies deep within the back muscles.

Dr. Robert S. Pashman

Los Angeles, CA

It is uncommon to be able to see instrumentation under the skin. Depending on the size of the patient and the thickness of their skin or fat layer, the instrumentation may or may not be noticeable to the touch.

The commentary above recounts the experiences of these physicians. Medtronic invited them to share their stories candidly. Keep in mind that results vary; not every patient's response is the same. Talk with your doctor to learn more about any products that are mentioned above.

It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications and benefits of spinal surgery with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your doctor's judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.

  • Published: June 20, 2002
  • Updated: April 19, 2010