Purpose: Traumatic rib fractures account for 7-40 % of trauma admissions and most of them heal spontaneously and do not contribute to disability. The prevalence of chronic pain and its impact on quality of life following a traumatic rib fracture has not been studied adequately.
Methods: A retrospective review of electronic medical records of all the traumatic rib fracture admissions from January 2007 to December 2008 was conducted. This was followed up with a brief telephonic survey of the following questions: (1) Do you have pain following the trauma? (2) If YES, how severe is your pain from a score of zero to ten? (3) Does the pain affect your life style? (4) Does the pain affect your work? (5) Do you need to take regular pain medications?
Results: One hundred and two patients responded to the survey and 23 patients (22.5 %) complained of chronic persistent pain. In patients with pain, six patients (26 %) had chronic pain that required regular use of analgesics, eight patients (35 %) complained of impairment of work life, and three patients (13 %) complained of impairment of personal quality of life. Chronic pain was not related to age, number of ribs fractured, flail chest, hemothorax and/or pneumothorax, chest tube insertion, or Injury Severity Score (ISS).
Conclusion: This study confirms the high incidence of chronic pain after a traumatic rib fracture. While the majority of the patients can manage this pain without interference of their quality of life, a few do suffer from life style/work interference and may have to resort to regular analgesic usage.
Keywords: Chronic pain; Rib fracture; Thoracic trauma.