Rib fractures after chest physiotherapy for bronchiolitis or pneumonia in infants

Pediatr Radiol. 2002 Sep;32(9):644-7. doi: 10.1007/s00247-002-0755-y. Epub 2002 Jul 12.


Background: The reported causes of rib fractures in infants are: child abuse, accidental injury, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, bone fragility, birth trauma and severe cough.

Objective: To report chest physiotherapy (CPT) as a new cause of rib fractures in five infants.

Materials and methods: We retrospectively identified all infants with rib fractures after CPT for bronchiolitis or pneumonia over a 4-year period in two paediatric and one paediatric radiology units in three university hospitals in Paris.

Results: Five boys were identified. Their median age was 3 months. None had any other potential cause of rib fractures. The indication for CPT was bronchiolitis in four cases and pneumonia in one. The median number of rib fractures was four (range 1-5). Fractures were located between the 3rd and 8th ribs; they were lateral in four patients and posterior in one; they were unilateral in four patients and bilateral in one. Evolution was favourable in all cases. The prevalence of rib fractures after CPT during the study period was estimated at 1 in 1,000 infants hospitalised for bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

Conclusions: CPT should be considered a potential, but very rare cause of rib fractures in infants. It can be of clinical relevance when rib fractures are the only feature suggestive of child abuse.

MeSH terms

  • Bronchiolitis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / adverse effects*
  • Pneumonia / therapy
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rib Fractures / diagnostic imaging*
  • Rib Fractures / etiology*