Operative fixation of chest wall fractures: an underused procedure?

Am Surg. 2007 Jun;73(6):591-6; discussion 596-7.


Chest wall fractures, including injuries to the ribs and sternum, usually heal spontaneously without specific treatment. However, a small subset of patients have fractures that produce overlying bone fragments that may produce severe pain, respiratory compromise, and, if untreated mechanically, result in nonunion. We performed open reduction and internal fixation on seven patients with multiple rib fractures-five in the initial hospitalization and two delayed--as well as 35 sternal fractures (19 immediate fixation and 16 delayed). Operative fixation was accomplished using titanium plates and screws in both groups of patients. All patients with rib fractures did well; there were no major complications or infections, and no plates required removal. Clinical results were excellent. There was one death in the sternal fracture group in a patient who was ventilator-dependent preoperatively and extubated himself in the early postoperative period. Otherwise, the results were excellent, with no complications occurring in this group. Three patients had their plates removed after boney union was achieved. No evidence of infection or nonunion occurred. The excellent results achieved in the subset of patients with severe chest wall deformities treated initially at our institution and those referred from outside suggest that operative fixation is a useful modality that is likely underused.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Bone Plates
  • Bone Screws
  • Chest Pain / diagnostic imaging
  • Flail Chest / surgery*
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / instrumentation
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Fracture Healing
  • Fractures, Bone / surgery*
  • Fractures, Ununited / surgery
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / diagnostic imaging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rib Fractures / surgery*
  • Sternum / injuries*
  • Sternum / surgery
  • Time Factors
  • Titanium
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Titanium