Surgical fixation of rib fractures decreases intensive care length of stay in flail chest patients

Xiangzhi Xiao, Shengchao Zhang, Juhua Yang, Jian Wang, Zhilong Zhang, Hao Chen


Background: Nonoperative treatment is currently the standard therapy for rib fractures. However, there is a trend towards surgical fixation from conservative management over the last decade. While surgical fixation of rib fractures has shown promising results, its impact on the clinical results remains unclear based on the current literature. As such, the present study aims to compare the short-term outcomes of multiple rib fracture patients treated by surgical fixation with traditional conservative management.
Methods: Data for patients with multiple (three or more) rib fractures admitted to our department between January 2012 and January 2019 were retrospectively collected and analyzed. Propensity score matched patients were compared between those treated with surgical rib fixation and those of nonoperatively treated. Primary outcomes were hospital length of stay for multiple rib fracture patients, and intensive care unit (ICU) length of stay for flail chest patients. Secondary outcomes included in hospital mortality, ICU usage rate, duration of ventilator support, ventilator usage rate, and pneumonia.
Results: The study included 1,201 patients with mean age of 50.1±12.7 years, of whom 954 (79.4%) were male. The average number of rib fractures was 6.3±2.4, with a mean injury severity score of 20.5±7.3. Among them, 563 (46.9%) patients had surgical rib fixation and 638 (53.1%) patients received nonoperative treatment. There were 191 patients with a flail chest, 133 (69.6%) had operative rib fixation and 58 (30.4%) were nonoperatively treated. After propensity score match, the hospital length of stay was not significantly differed between surgery and conservative management in multiple rib fracture patients (10.7±3.4 vs. 10.2±3.8 days, P=0.067), nor were the secondary outcomes, in terms of in hospital mortality (0.9% vs. 1.1%, P=0.704), ICU usage rate (12.3% vs. 12.9%, P=0.820), duration of ventilator support (100.1±13.9 vs. 99.8±20.7 hours, P=0.822), ventilator usage rate (12.0% vs. 12.9%, P=0.732), and pneumonia (24.3% vs. 24.9%, P=0.861). For patients with a flail chest, shorter ICU length of stay was found to be associated with surgical rib fixation comparing with nonoperative treatment (5.5±1.9 vs. 6.7±2.1 days, P=0.011). No secondary outcomes such as in hospital mortality (4.4% vs. 4.4%, P=1.000), ICU usage rate (20.0% vs. 22.2%, P=0.796), duration of ventilator support (113.1±20.4 vs. 131.2±19.5 hours, P=0.535), ventilator usage rate (20.0% vs. 20.0%, P=1.000), pneumonia (28.9% vs. 31.1%, P=0.818) were significant different between the operative and nonoperative groups.
Conclusions: Surgical rib fixation results in a shorter ICU length of stay in patients with a flail chest, and a comparable outcome for patients with multiple rib fractures when compared with nonoperative treatment.