BACKGROUND: Rib fractures occur in approximately 10% of trauma patients and are associated with more than 50% of patients with scapula fractures. This study investigates the location and patterns of rib fractures and flail chest occurring in patients with operatively treated scapula fractures. Novel frequency mapping techniques of rib fracture patterns in patients who also injure the closely associated scapula can yield insight into surgical approaches and fixation strategies for complex, multiple injuries patients. We hypothesize that rib fractures have locations of common occurrence when presenting with concomitant scapula fracture that requires operative treatment. METHODS: Patients with one or more rib fractures and a chest computed tomography scan between 2004 and 2018 were identified from a registry of patients having operatively treated scapula fractures. Unfurled rib images were created using Syngo-CT Bone Reading software (Siemens Inc., Munich, Germany). Rib fracture and flail segment locations were marked and measured for standardized placement on a two-dimensional chest wall template. Location and frequency were then used to create a gradient heat map. RESULTS: A total of 1,062 fractures on 686 ribs were identified in 86 operatively treated scapula fracture patients. The mean ± SD number of ribs fractured per patient was 8.0 ± 4.1 and included a mean ± SD of 12.3 ± 7.2 total fractures. Rib fractures ipsilateral to the scapula fracture occurred in 96.5% of patients. The most common fracture and flail segment location was ipsilateral and subscapular; 51.4% of rib fractures and 95.7% of flail segments involved ribs 3 to 6. CONCLUSION: Patients indicated for operative treatment of scapula fractures have a substantial number of rib fractures that tend to most commonly occur posteriorly on the rib cage. There is a pattern of subscapular rib fractures and flail chest adjacent to the thick bony borders of the scapula. This study enables clinicians to better evaluate and diagnose scapular fracture patients with concomitant rib fractures. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Diagnostic test, level IV.
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