Comparison of surgical stabilization of rib fractures vs epidural analgesia on in-hospital outcomes


      • Early SSRF was associated with mildly prolonged length of stay and decreased risk of unplanned intubation compared with epidural analgesia.
      • Epidural analgesia may offer comparable in-hospital outcomes in the absence of SSRF among adults with acute rib fractures.
      • Early referral to a chest wall injury center may facilitate the timely identification of and intervention for appropriate surgical candidates.



      Surgical stabilization of rib fractures (SSRF) improves functional outcomes compared to controls, partly due to reduction in pain. We investigated the impact of early SSRF on pulmonary complications, mortality, and length of stay compared to non-operative analgesia with epidural analgesia (EA).


      Retrospective cohort study of the Trauma Quality Improvement Program (TQIP) 2017 dataset for adults with rib fractures, excluding those with traumatic brain injury or death within twenty-four hours. Early SSRF and EA occurred within 72 h, and we excluded those who received both or neither intervention. Our primary outcome was a composite of pulmonary complications including acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). Additional outcomes included unplanned endotracheal intubation, in-hospital mortality, and hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) length of stay (LOS) for those surviving to discharge. Multiple logistic and linear regressions were controlled for variables including age, sex, flail chest (FC), injury severity, additional procedures, and medical comorbidities.


      We included 1,024 and 1,109 patients undergoing early SSRF and EA, respectively. SSRF patients were more severely injured with higher rates of FC (42.8 vs 13.3%, p<0.001), Injury Severity Score (ISS) > 16 (56.9 vs 36.1%, p<0.001), and Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) Thorax > 3 (33.3 vs 12.2%, p<0.001). Overall, 49 (2.3%) of patients developed ARDS or VAP, 111 (5.2%) required unplanned intubation, and 58 (2.7%) expired prior to discharge. On multivariable analysis, SSRF was not associated with the primary composite outcome (OR: 1.65, 95%CI: 0.85–3.21). Early SSRF significantly predicted decreased risk of unplanned intubation (OR:0.59, 95%CI: 0.38–0.92) compared with early EA alone, however, was not a significant predictor of in-hospital mortality (OR: 1.27, 95%CI: 0.68–2.39). SSRF was associated with significantly longer hospital (Exp( β): 1.06, 95%CI: 1.00–1.12, p = 0.047) and ICU LOS (Exp( β): 1.17, 95%CI: 1.08–1.27, p<0.001).


      Aside from unplanned intubation, we observed no statistically significant difference in the adjusted odds of in-hospital pulmonary morbidity or mortality for patients undergoing early SSRF compared with early EA. Chest wall injury patients may benefit from referral to trauma centers where both interventions are available and appropriate surgical candidates may receive timely intervention.


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