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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Thermography Can Help Spot Source of Unresolved Pain

A well-established, radiation-free medical screening tool often used to detect the earliest signs of breast cancer can also help get to the root of chronic pain, says Candace Parmer, a clinical thermographic technician with Radiant Body Thermography, based in Fort Walton Beach.

“If you have unresolved pain not seen with other imaging modalities, consider making anappointment for a thermogram,” Parmer says. “It’s performed at a distance, with no radiation, pain or contact. An infrared camera scans the heat that you radiate, using temperature-sensing technology to produce a map of the heat emissions that make up your unique thermal fingerprint." 

The infrared camera used in thermography detects heat only to a depth of 5mm, but to an accuracy of 3/100ths of a degree per pixel, capturing precise skin temperatures that computers process into images, she says. Infrared imaging was first used as a diagnostic tool in 1956, when Raymond Lawson, M.D., showed that the skin temperature over a cancer in the breast was higher than that of normal tissue.

“Each person's unique thermal fingerprint is remarkably stable over one’s lifetime except ifdisease or injury occurs,” Parmer explains. She notes that it’s common to see thermal signaling from inflammation, infection, soft-tissue injuries, neuropathies, hormone imbalances, nerve compression or impingements, herniated disks, breast disease and many other conditions. 

In 1972, the US Department of Health Education and Welfare determined that thermography is “beyond the experimental stage” in four areas: pathology of the female breast, extra-cranial vessel disease, peripheral vascular disease and musculoskeletal Injury. It was approved as an adjunctive imaging procedure by the FDA in 1982.

While thermography is a highly useful diagnostic aid for pointing clinicians toward thermal abnormalities that deserve investigation, it shouldn’t be used alone to diagnose or treat a condition, and it shouldn’t be used as standalone screening for any condition, Parmer says. Follow-up testing is needed to confirm or rule out findings.

‘Seeing’ warning signs

Often thermography can “see” signs of a problem even before symptoms appear, by sensing the nervous system's early chemical and thermal reactions, Parmer says. That makes it a useful tool in sports health, where the goal is to prevent injuries from occurring or reoccurring.

“Athletes and coaches use the technology to find injury-prone areas of inflammation or to assist in knowing when training may be resumed after injuries,” she says.


Thermography also has legal applications, she adds. “Attorneys utilize it as evidence to assist in documenting pain and injury of accident victims.” 

But the best-known use of thermography is to detect warning signs of breast cancer before it has a chance to develop.

“Women use this advanced knowledge to take a proactive approach and begin working with their doctors to improve breast health when abnormal or hormonal patterns appear,” Parmer says.

The research in that area is longstanding. The 1980 study “Long-Term Assessment of Breast Cancer Risk by Thermal Imaging,” published in Biomedical Thermology, found that an abnormal breast scan is the single most important marker of high risk for developing breast cancer—ten times more significant than a family history of the disease. Consequently, in patients with a persistent abnormal thermogram, the examination results become a marker of higher future cancer risk. That conclusion was supported by another study, “Breast Thermography and Cancer Risk Prediction,” published the same year.

Parmer recommends the website as “an excellent resource” for information on this safe and painless imaging technology. Under the FAQ tab, visitors can learn how to choose a qualified imaging center, as well as how to recognize exaggerated claims (see the Thermography Myths section). 

“Also, there’s a Find a Center button listing clinics around the world that follow the standards and guidelines of the International Academy of Clinical Thermology,” she says. “Many clinics on that list utilize the country’s best thermologist, Dr. William C. Amalu, to read their images.”

Amalu authored chapter 25, “Infrared Imaging of the Breast,” in the Biomedical Engineering Handbook: Medical Devices and Systems. 

“Dr. Amalu has three decades of experience in the field and is always happy to discuss this fascinating technology,” Parmer says.

For more information about thermography and its uses, contact Radiant Body Thermography at 850-374-3712 or visit

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