While penetrating wounds of the thorax are rather uncommon in The Netherlands, they are frequently encountered in the emergency centres of the United States. Thoracic wall penetration may occur during times of warfare, during social altercations or as a result of industrial accidents. In civilian practice, such wounds are most often the result of injury with guns, knives or other sharp objects. Patients with penetrating thoracic wounds should be expeditiously transported to a trauma centre. Pre-hospital intravenous fluids, pleural decompression and anti-shock garments are contraindicated. On arrival in the emergency room, establishment of a patent airway, administration of intravenous fluids, pleural decompression and early X-ray examination of the chest are mandatory.