A retrospective study was conducted at the cardiothoracic surgical unit of the University College Hospital, Ibadan on all consecutive, blunt chest injury patients treated between May 1975 and April 1999. The period of study was divided into 2 periods: May 1975-April 1987, May 1987-April 1999. The aim was to determine the pattern of injury, the management and complications of the injury among the treated. Blunt chest trauma patients were 69% (1331 patients) of all chest injury patients (1928 patients) treated. Mean age for the 2 periods was 38.3 +/- 15 years and 56.4 +/- 6.2 years, the male:female ratio was 4:1 and 2:1 respectively. The incidence of blunt chest trauma tripled in the second period. Blunt chest trauma was classified as involving bony chest wall or without the involvement of bony chest wall. Majority of the blunt chest injuries were minor chest wall injuries (68%, 905 patients), 7.6% (101 patients) had major but stable chest wall injuries, 10.8% (144 patients) had flail chest injuries. Thoracic injuries without fractures of bony chest wall occurred in 181 patients (13.6%). Seven hundred and eighty-seven patients (59.1%) had associated extra-thoracic injuries, in 426 patients (54.1%) two or more extra-thoracic systems were involved. While orthopaedic injury was the most frequent extra-thoracic injury (69.5%) associated with blunt chest trauma, craniospinal injury (31.9%) was more common injury among the patients with severe or life threatening chest trauma. The most common extra-thoracic operation was laparotomy (221 patients). Nine hundred and seventy patients (72.9%) had either closed thoracostomy drainage or clinical observation, 361 patients (27.1%) had major thoracic surgical intervention (emergent in 134 patients, late in 227 patients). Most of the severe lung contusion that needed ventilatory care (85 patients) featured among patients with bony chest wall injury, 15 were without chest wall injury. Majority of patients 63.2% (835 patients) had no significant complications, 486 patients (30.8%) of 1321 survivors had 741 complications. The commonest complications were atelectasis (201 patients) and pleural space complications (263 patients). Overall mortality was 36.2% (154 patients) among 426 patients. We conclude that majority of blunt chest trauma can be managed by simple procedures with minimal complications. Severe soft tissue chest injuries can occur without bony chest wall fractures.