Long-term disability after flail chest injury

J Trauma. 1984 May;24(5):410-4. doi: 10.1097/00005373-198405000-00007.


A review of 62 consecutive patients who sustained flail chest after trauma from 1971 to 1982 was conducted to document the late effects of this injury. The mechanism of injury was motor vehicle accident in 44 (71%), fall in nine (14.5%), and farming accident in nine (14.5%). Patients ranged in age from 7 to 87 years. Twenty-four (39%) patients arrived in shock and 54 (87%) had major extra-thoracic associated injuries. Thirty-seven (60%) patients were managed by intubation and mechanical ventilation and 25 (40%) by chest physiotherapy. Pulmonary complications developed in 60% of the total group. Eight patients (12.9%) died during the initial hospitalization. Five patients died 1 month to 9 years after discharge, and 17 were eventually lost to followup. Six-month to 12-year followup (mean, 5 years) was re-established for 32 patients. Twenty-one of these returned for comprehensive testing including physical examination, chest roentgenograms, spirometry, flow volume curves, diffusion testing, and calculation of dyspnea index. Of 32 patients questioned, only 12 had returned to full-time employment. Eight (25%) still had subjective chest tightness, 15 (49%) complained of thoracic cage pain, and 12 (38%) had experienced moderate or severe change in their overall level of activity. Using the British Medical Research Gradation for Dyspnea, three (9%) patients had moderate and six (19%) severe shortness of breath. Objective dyspnea index calculated from VEBTPS /MVV revealed mild dyspnea in 50% and moderate dyspnea in 20%. Formal carbon monoxide diffusion testing was normal in 90% of patients and revealed mild decrease in 10%.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Female
  • Flail Chest / complications
  • Flail Chest / diagnosis
  • Flail Chest / rehabilitation*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Thoracic Injuries / rehabilitation*