A Statewide Assessment of Rib Fixation Patterns Reveals Missed Opportunities

Cody L. Mullens, Mark J. Seamon, Adam Shiroff, Jeremy W. Cannon, Lewis J. Kaplan, Jose L. Pascual, Daniel N. Holena, Niels D. Martin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Rib fractures are a common consequence of traumatic injury and can result in significant debilitation. Rib fixation offers fracture stabilization, resulting in improved outcomes and decreased pulmonary complications, especially in high-risk groups such as those with flail segments. However, commercial rib fixation has only recently become clinically prevalent, and we hypothesize that significant variability exists in its utilization based on injury pattern and trauma center. Methods: The Pennsylvania Trauma System Foundation database was queried for all multiple rib fracture patients occurring statewide in 2016 and 2017. Demographics including the presence of flail and the occurrence of rib fixation was abstracted. Outcomes were compared between the fixation group and all other rib fracture patients. Deidentified treating trauma center was used to elicit center-level disparities. Results: During the study period, there were 12,910 patients with multiple rib fractures, of which 135 had flail segments. 57 patients underwent rib fixation, and 10 of which had a flail segment. Compared with the nonoperative cohort, those who underwent rib fixation were younger (52.5 versus 61.5, P = 0.0009), similar in gender (68% versus 62% male, P = 0.373), and race (80% versus 86% White, P = 0.239). The rib fixation group had higher Injury Severity Scores (19.4 versus 15.4 P = 0.0011). The timing of rib fixation was most frequent within 1 wk of injury but extended out through 3 wk; the occurrence of pulmonary complications had a similar distribution. The frequency of rib fixation rates within trauma centers was not associated with rib fracture patient volume, and 37.1% of multiple rib fracture patients were cared for at centers that did not perform rib fixation. Conclusions: Rib fixation is infrequently used at trauma centers in Pennsylvania. It is used more frequently in nonflail injuries, and its use may be associated with the occurrence of pulmonary complications. Significant center-level variation exists in rib fixation rates among multiple fractured patients. A significant number of patients are cared for at centers that do not perform rib fixation. Further research is needed to illicit better-defined indications for operative fixation, and opportunities exist to further the penetrance of this practice to all trauma centers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-211
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Chest wall stabilization
  • Chest wall trauma
  • Rib fixation
  • Rib fractures


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