Background: In trauma patients, open reduction and internal fixation of rib fractures remain controversial. We hypothesized that patients who have open reduction and internal fixation of rib fractures would experience less pain compared with controls and thus require fewer opiates. Further, we hypothesized that improved pain control would result in fewer pulmonary complications and decreased length of stay.
Methods: This is a retrospective bi-institutional matched case-control study. Cases were matched 1:2 by age, injury severity Score, chest abbreviated injury severity score, head abbreviated injury severity score, pulmonary contusion score, and number of fractured ribs. The daily total doses of analgesic drugs were converted to equianalgesic intravenous morphine doses, and the primary outcome was inpatient narcotic administration.
Results: Sixteen patients between July 2005 and June 2009 underwent rib fixation in 5 ± 3 days after injury using an average of 3 (1-5) metallic plates. Morphine requirements decreased from 110 mg ± 98 mg preoperatively to 63 ± 57 mg postoperatively (p = 0.01). There were no significant differences between cases and controls in the mean morphine dose (79 ± 63 vs. 76 ± 55 mg, p = 0.65), hospital stay (18 ± 12 vs. 16 ± 11 days, p = 0.67), intensive care unit stay (9 ± 8 vs. 7 ± 10 days, p = 0.75), ventilation days (7 ± 8 vs. 6 ± 10, p = 0.44), and pneumonia rates (31% vs. 38%, p = 0.76).
Conclusion: The need for analgesia was significantly reduced after rib fixation in patients with multiple rib fractures. However, no difference in outcomes was observed when these patients were compared with matched controls in this pilot study. Further study is required to investigate these preliminary findings.