Background: Computerized tomographic scans are routinely obtained to evaluate a number of musculoskeletal conditions. However, since computerized tomographic scans expose patients to the greatest amounts of radiation of all imaging modalities, the physician must be cognizant of the effective doses of radiation that are administered. This investigation was performed to quantify the effective doses of computerized tomographic scans that are performed for various musculoskeletal applications.
Methods: The digital imaging archive of a single institution was retrospectively reviewed to identify helical computerized tomographic scans that were completed to visualize the extremities or spine. Imaging parameters were recorded for each examination, and dosimetry calculator software was used to calculate the effective dose values according to a modified protocol derived from publication SR250 of the National Radiological Protection Board of the United Kingdom. Computerized tomographic scans of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis were also collected, and the effective doses were compared with those reported by prior groups in order to validate the results of the current study.
Results: The mean effective doses for computerized tomographic scans of the chest, abdomen, and pelvis (5.27, 4.95, and 4.85 mSv, respectively) were consistent with those of previous investigations. The highest mean effective doses were recorded for studies evaluating the spine (4.36, 17.99, and 19.15 mSv for the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spines, respectively). In the upper extremity, the effective dose of a computerized tomographic scan of the shoulder (2.06 mSv) was higher than those of the elbow (0.14 mSv) and wrist (0.03 mSv). Similarly, the effective dose of a hip scan (3.09 mSv) was significantly higher than those observed with knee (0.16 mSv) and ankle (0.07 mSv) scans.
Conclusions: Computerized tomographic scans of the axial and appendicular skeleton are associated with substantially elevated radiation exposures, but the effective dose declines substantially for anatomic structures that are further away from the torso.