Traumatic Rib Injury: Patterns, Imaging Pitfalls, Complications, and Treatment

Radiographics. 2017 Mar-Apr;37(2):628-651. doi: 10.1148/rg.2017160100. Epub 2017 Feb 10.


The ribs are frequently affected by blunt or penetrating injury to the thorax. In the emergency department setting, it is vital for the interpreting radiologist to not only identify the presence of rib injuries but also alert the clinician about organ-specific injury, specific traumatic patterns, and acute rib trauma complications that require emergent attention. Rib injuries can be separated into specific morphologic fracture patterns that include stress, buckle, nondisplaced, displaced, segmental, and pathologic fractures. Specific attention is also required for flail chest and for fractures due to pediatric nonaccidental trauma. Rib fractures are associated with significant morbidity and mortality, both of which increase as the number of fractured ribs increases. Key complications associated with rib fracture include pain, hemothorax, pneumothorax, extrapleural hematoma, pulmonary contusion, pulmonary laceration, acute vascular injury, and abdominal solid-organ injury. Congenital anomalies, including supernumerary or accessory ribs, vestigial anterior ribs, bifid ribs, and synostoses, are common and should not be confused with traumatic pathologic conditions. Nontraumatic mimics of traumatic rib injury, with or without fracture, include metastatic disease, primary osseous neoplasms (osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, Langerhans cell histiocytosis, and osteochondroma), fibrous dysplasia, and Paget disease. Principles of management include supportive and procedural methods of alleviating pain, treating complications, and stabilizing posttraumatic deformity. By recognizing and accurately reporting the imaging findings, the radiologist will add value to the care of patients with thoracic trauma. Online supplemental material is available for this article. ©RSNA, 2017.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Diseases / complications
  • Bone Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Rib Fractures / complications
  • Rib Fractures / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ribs / injuries*