Imaging of Combat-Related Thoracic Trauma - Blunt Trauma and Blast Lung Injury

John P. Lichtenberger, Andrew M. Kim, Dane Fisher, Peter S. Tatum, Brian Neubauer, P. Gabriel Peterson, Brett W. Carter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Introduction: Combat-related thoracic trauma (CRTT) is a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality of the casualties from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Penetrating, blunt, and blast injuries are the most common mechanisms of trauma to the chest. Imaging plays a key role in the battlefield management of CRTT casualties. This work discusses the imaging manifestations of thoracic injuries from blunt trauma and blast injury, emphasizing epidemiology and diagnostic clues seen during OEF and OIF. Materials and Methods: The assessment of radiologic findings in patients who suffer from combat-related blunt thoracic trauma and blast injury is the basis of this work. The imaging modalities for this work include multi-detector computed tomography (MDCT) and chest radiography. Results: Multiple imaging modalities are available to imagers on or near the battlefront, including radiography, fluoroscopy, and MDCT. MDCT with multi-planar reconstructions is the most sensitive imaging modality available in combat hospitals for the evaluation of CRTT. In modern combat, blunt and blast injuries account for a significant portion of CRTT. Individual body armor converts penetrating trauma to blunt trauma, leading to pulmonary contusion that accounted for 50.2% of thoracic injuries during OIF and OEF. Flail chest, a subset of blunt chest injury, is caused by significant blunt force to the chest and occurs four times as frequently in combat casualties when compared with the civilian population. Imaging features of CRTT have significant diagnostic and prognostic value. Pulmonary contusions on chest radiography appear as patchy consolidations in the acute setting with ill-defined and non-segmental borders. MDCT of the chest is a superior imaging modality in diagnosing and evaluating pulmonary contusion. Contusions on MDCT appear as crescentic ground-glass opacities (opacities through which lung interstitium and vasculature are still visible) and areas of consolidation that often do not respect the anatomic boundaries of the affected lobes. Additionally, small pulmonary contusions may exhibit sub-pleural sparing and may distinguish contusion from pneumonia or other lung pathology. Although pulmonary laceration is typically the result of penetrating trauma, laceration may also be caused by displaced rib fractures or significant shearing forces on the lung without penetrating injury. Because of elastic recoil of the normal pulmonary parenchyma surrounding the injury, pulmonary lacerations may present as late as 48-72 h after injury. Pulmonary lacerations may appear similar to pulmonary contusions on chest radiography initially and will require MDCT for definitive diagnosis. Blast injury is a defining injury of modern combat. Blast lung injury is initially diagnosed with chest radiography, where the pattern of lung opacities has previously been described by clinicians as "batwing"or "butterfly"because of its central appearance in the lung. "Peribronchovascular"may be a more accurate description of primary blast lung based on its appearance on MDCT. This pattern may differentiate primary blast lung injury from other causes of thoracic trauma. Conclusion: CRTT continues to be a significant contributor to the morbidity and mortality of those injured during OEF and OIF. The distinct injury patterns and atypical imaging manifestations of blunt trauma and blast lung injury are important to recognize early because of the acuity of this patient population and the influence of accurate diagnosis on clinical management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E89-E96
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Imaging
  • Lung
  • Thoracic
  • Trauma
  • blast


Dive into the research topics of 'Imaging of Combat-Related Thoracic Trauma - Blunt Trauma and Blast Lung Injury'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this