Outcome after surgical stabilization of symptomatic rib fracture nonunion: a multicenter retrospective case series

Suzanne F.M. Van Wijck, Esther M.M. Van Lieshout, Jonne T.H. Prins, Michael H.J. Verhofstad, Pieter J. Van Huijstee, Jefrey Vermeulen, Mathieu M.E. Wijffels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Purpose: This study aimed to determine the long-term level of pain after surgical treatment of one or more symptomatic rib fracture nonunions. Secondary aims were to evaluate the occurrence of adverse events, satisfaction, and activity resumption. The final aim was to assess the association between pain and the presence of bridging callus at the nonunified fracture. Hypothesized was that thoracic pain would diminish after surgery. Methods: This retrospective case series included adults who underwent surgery for a symptomatic rib fracture nonunion from three hospitals. Symptomatic nonunion was defined as persistent pain associated with nonbridging callus of ≥1 rib fractures on a chest CT scan at ≥3 months after the initial injury. Patients completed questionnaires about pain, satisfaction, and activity resumption ≥3 months postoperatively. Results: Thirty-six patients (26 men, 10 women), with a median age of 55 (P25–P75 49–62) years and 169 acute rib fractures were included. Nonunion occurred in 98 (58%) fractures of which 70 (71%) were treated surgically. After a median of 11 months (P25–P75 7–21), 13 (36%) patients reported severe pain, in contrast to 26 (72%) preoperatively. Patients who underwent intercostal neurectomy or neurolysis in addition to surgical stabilization less often reported pain reduction. Twenty-six (72%) had postoperative complications, for which 12 (33%) underwent additional surgery, mostly for persistent pain. The majority (n = 27; 75%) was satisfied with their functional recovery. Of patients who had paid work pre-trauma, 65% had resumed working. Conclusion: Most patients reported less pain and better daily functioning after surgical stabilization of symptomatic rib fracture nonunions, although causality cannot be proven with this retrospective case series. Additional intercostal nerve treatment was not associated with pain relief. Despite surgery-related complications being common, patient satisfaction was high. Level of evidence: Level V. Study type: Therapeutic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2783-2793
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery
Issue number4
Early online date27 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

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