Rib fractures (RFs) are estimated to be present in 10 per cent of all traumatic injuries. However, up to 50 per cent of all fractures go undetected on the screening chest X-ray (CXR). The purpose of this study was to identify the incidence of clinical (CRFs) and objective rib fractures (ORFs) as well as to examine the utility of the routine follow-up CXR with regard to patient recovery and healthcare cost. We identified patients sustaining RF in addition to other traumatic injuries with an Injury Severity Score (ISS) < or = 15 and RF as the primary pathology. Five hundred fifty-two patients sustained blunt thoracic trauma with resultant RF. Two hundred nine patients had RFs and an ISS < or = 15. The average ISS was 8. Follow-up films illustrated that 93 per cent of CRFs had resolution of any pathology, 4 per cent had persistent X-ray findings, and 4 per cent were lost to follow-up. Ultimately 93 per cent of patients with CRF were able to resume daily activities without disability and 3 per cent incurred lifestyle changes at home or work, which was significantly better than those with ORFs (P < 0.05). Follow-up films produced no change in clinical management and cost approximately $2000/year. The prognosis for CRFs is excellent if treatment consists of appropriate pain management and pulmonary rehabilitation. We do not advocate routine follow-up CXRs in addition to physical examination for the evaluation of CRFs unless clinical deterioration is evident.