What Weight Really Means to Musculoskeletal Health

You may think that a little extra weight in your radiation personal protection equipment isn’t worth considering, and a lighter-weight option may not be worth the difference in price. But an extra pound, or even a few extra ounces, makes a drastic difference on the strain your body endures throughout the course of a day.


Your joints carry far more than your bodyweight

When in motion, the force exerted on your joints is far greater than the weight that you carry. From walking on level ground to inclines, and on stairs to bending over, the joint reaction force actually multiplies your bodyweight by 1.5 to 5 times.1

That means on average, a 180-pound person can exert 585 pounds of pressure on their knees with each step or motion. Using the average of the chart below, it only takes 5 ounces to add an extra pound of pressure to your joints. Over time, that pressure takes its toll, damaging cartilage and ligaments, which leads to arthritic changes, pain and chronic injuries.2

What that means for providers

For providers in a hospital environment, the danger of cumulative joint damage is an occupational hazard. A study of two doctor groups from 13 training hospitals showed that doctors walk an average of 5,325 steps,4 or 2.7 miles,5 every day on the job. Even if a doctor only walks on flat ground and never bends over, 5 extra ounces can have the effect of carrying an extra 2,496 pounds throughout the course of a day.

Doctors in hospitals walk an average of 2.7 miles every day on the job. That means an extra 5 ounces can have a minimum effect of carrying 2,496 pounds.

What that means for providers who wear lead

Many lead aprons weigh more than 10 pounds. Depending on the body movement, even a 10 pound apron adds an extra 15 to 50 pounds of force on your joints. With the most conservative estimate possible, a provider who wears a 10 pound apron only half the time at work experiences a staggering 39,000 pounds of force.

“It has been estimated that a 15-pound lead apron can exert a load of 300 pounds per square inch on the intervertebral discs.”6Society of Interventional Radiology
• 52% of radiologists reported lower back pain7
• 60% of interventional radiologists reported neck and lower back pain8
• More than 50% of interventional cardiologists required treatments for spine symptoms9

Unsurprisingly, providers who work in radiology experience repetitive stress injuries that keep them from enjoying their lives outside of work, lead to missed days of work, or even force them from the field altogether.


Her story of musculoskeletal pain

“I worked for four-and-half years as a Cath Lab Specialist/RN, but in terms of the strain on my back and knees, it felt like a lifetime. I loved my job. We saved people’s lives with minimally invasive procedures that could have otherwise been major surgeries. But one of the radiologists that I worked with would have to sit to suture following a chest port insertion due to cervical spine strain.

And then I found my own quality of life deteriorating. For me the biggest problem was my life outside of work. I love to be active and outdoors with my kids. I couldn’t go hiking with them. I couldn’t walk or run without knee pain. Eventually I left the field because you have to be able to enjoy your life. I saw a number of colleagues leave the field, giving up careers they loved because they could no longer work through the pain and discomfort.

It’s my goal to help providers avoid having to deal with that kind of chronic pain. It’s only one piece of the puzzle, but designing lighter, more ergonomic radiation PPE can make a big impact on radiologists’ quality of life both inside and outside of work.”


Cut weight wherever you can

As Stephen P. Messier, PhD, of Wake Forest University wrote, “The accumulated reduction in knee load for a 1-pound loss in weight would be more than 4,800 pounds per mile walked.”10 As an estimated 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, losing a few pounds should be a priority for most people.

But as providers in hospitals often have to deal with hectic work schedules, that can take a lot of time and planning. A quick fix with long term benefits is lighter and more ergonomic PPE. A tailored apron with a lead alternative can weigh as little as 6 pounds and protect you with a 1:1 ratio of protective material to the area covered. If you’re currently wearing a 15 pound apron, you could remove thousands of pounds of force from your body.

Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet can not only help you lose weight, but can also decrease inflammation of the joints. In particular, aim to have seven to nine servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables every day. They contain carotenoids called beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin that have shown promising anti-inflammatory effects.11

Get regular exercise

In addition to losing weight, regular exercise can help alleviate joint pain by strengthening the muscles around the joints, increasing circulation, and improving joint mobility and flexibility. Always ask your doctor which routines are right for you, but the following are good places to start.


Providers who work in radiology environments have the odds stacked against them for joint pain and back problems. While you may not be able to control the amount of walking you have to do or the positions you need to work in, you can exert some control over the amount of weight you have to carry. Between cutting excess weight, eating well, and exercising regularly, you can avoid a great deal of damage to your musculoskeletal health.