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Operative stabilization of flail chest injuries: review of literature and fixation options

Urban and Vogel
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1007/s00068-010-0027-8
  • Review Article


Background Flail chest injuries cause significant morbidity, especially in multiply injured patients. Standard treatment is typically focused on the underlying lung injury and involves pain control and positive pressure ventilation. Several studies suggest improved short- and long-term outcomes following operative stabilization of the flail segments. Despite these studies, flail chest fixation remains a largely underutilized procedure. Methods This article reviews the relevant literature concerning flail chest fixation and describes the different implants and techniques available for fixation. Additionally, an illustrative case example is provided for description of the surgical approach. Results Two prospective randomized studies, five comparative studies, and a number of case series documented benefits of operative treatment of flail chest injuries, including a decreased in ventilation duration, ICU stay, rates of pneumonia, mortality, residual chest wall deformity, and total cost of care. Historically, rib fractures have been stabilized with external plates or intramedullary implants. The use of contemporary, anatomically contoured rib plates reduced the need for intraoperative plate bending. Intramedullary rib splints allowed less-invasive fixation of posterior fractures where access for plating was limited. Conclusion Operative treatment can provide substantial benefits to patients with flail chest injuries and respiratory compromise requiring mechanical ventilation. The use of anatomically contoured rib plates and intramedullary splints greatly simplifies the procedure of flail chest fixation.

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