Surgical stabilization of flail chest: The impact on postoperative pulmonary function

S. M. Said, N. Goussous, M. D. Zielinski, H. J. Schiller, B. D. Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives: Flail chest results in significant morbidity. Controversies continue regarding the optimal management of flail chest. No clear guidelines exist for surgical stabilization. Our aim was to examine the association of bedside spirometry values with operative stabilization of flail chest. Methods: IRB approval was obtained to identify patients with flail chest who underwent surgical stabilization between August 2009 and May 2011. At our institution, all rib fracture patients underwent routine measurement of their forced vital capacity (FVC) using bedside spirometry. Formal pulmonary function tests were also obtained postoperatively and at three months in patients undergoing stabilization. Both the Synthes and Acute Innovations plating systems were utilized. Data is presented as median (range) or (percentage). Results: Twenty patients (13 male: 65 %) with median age of 60 years (30-83) had a median of four ribs (2-9) in the flail segment. The median Injury Severity Score was 17 (9-41) and the median Trauma and Injury Severity Score was 0.96 (0.04-0.99). Preoperative pneumonia was identified in four patients (20 %) and intubation was required in seven (35 %). Median time from injury to stabilization was four days (1-33). The median number of plates inserted was five (3-11). Postoperative median FVC (1.8 L, range 1.3-4 L) improved significantly as compared to preoperative median value (1 L, range 0.5-2.1 L) (p = 0.003). This improvement continued during the follow-up period at three months (0.9 L, range 0.1-3.0) (p = 0.006). There were three deaths (15 %), none of which were related to the procedure. Subsequent tracheostomy was required in three patients (15 %). The mean hospital stay and ventilator days after stabilization were nine days and three days, respectively. Mean follow-up was 5.6 ± 4.6 months. Conclusion: Operative stabilization of flail chest improved pulmonary function compared with preoperative results. This improvement was sustained at three months follow-up.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-505
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Flail chest
  • Pulmonary function
  • Rib stabilization


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