Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can Glass in Soft Tissues Be Visualized on X-ray? Yes.

A cleverly written post on the blog “Polite Dissent” uses a Superman comic book to make a point that most types of glass cannot be seen using plain x-rays. I beg to differ.

Despite evidence to the contrary, the myth that glass cannot be seen on x-ray persists. Back in 1982, a radiologist named Dan Tandberg performed a simple, but elegant experiment. He embedded 66 different kinds of glass in the muscles of chicken drumsticks. He used pieces of chicken because it is similar in tissue density to human fingers and feet. In all 66 cases, the glass could be seen with a plain x-ray. The paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

My clinical experience has confirmed Tandberg’s findings.

But a word of warning is necessary. Just because glass can be seen on x-ray doesn’t mean it will be easy to find when trying to remove it. X-rays from various angles, insertion of needles to help establish the location of the glass and even fluoroscopy may be required.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what general surgery residents are taught, but I was taught to always use fluoroscopy and insert two needles if you have a radioopaque foreign body.

Unknown said...

Hi. thanks for your efforts, i am high school student working on a graduation project about (finding a method to find glass shards/ shrapnel in wounds ) and I've been searching the web and couldn't find anything related to that, my question is : is there a standard proccess or machine (a special x ray etc) that can find glass embedded deep inside wounds in the Er ?

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Routine soft tissue x-rays taken from 2 or 3 different angles will usually show nearly all types of glass. Email me and I will send you a PDF of the paper I cited in the post.

agriffin said...

Could you please send me a PDF of the paper you referenced about seeing glass in soft tissue x-rays from several different angles. Thank you!
Anne Griffin

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Anne, I would love to send it to you but you did not give me an email address. You can obtain it from the website Sci-Hub ( by copying and pasting the paper's DOI number ( doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03330150058025) into the search field.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.