Purpose: To evaluate the incidence and specificity of fracture of the first rib as an indicator of child abuse and to determine a mechanism of fracture.
Materials and methods: All infants and young children with rib fractures who were seen at the radiology department of an academic medical center over a 2-year period were identified from the radiology data base.
Results: Rib fractures were attributed to child abuse in 12 of 35 children identified. Apart from a neonate with congenital osteogenesis imperfecta, only three children, all abused, had first-rib fracture, one bilaterally. Two additional children with first-rib fracture were identified from years prior to the study period. In four children, first-rib fractures were "isolated," without fractures of adjacent bones.
Conclusion: Child abuse should be considered in cases of pediatric rib fracture, particularly fracture of the first rib. Possible mechanisms for first-rib fracture include impact force, compressive force, and shaking or acute axial load (slamming), which cause an indirect fracture.