Better late than never - A single-center review of delayed rib fixation for symptomatic rib fractures and nonunions

Zachary M. Bauman, Hason Khan, Lindsey Cavlovic, Sydney Todd, Samuel Cemaj, Trevor Daubert, Ashley Raposo-Hadley, Miguel Matos, Olabisi Sheppard, Bennett Berning, Andrew Kamien, Charity H. Evans, Emily Cantrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND Surgical stabilization of rib fractures (SSRFs) has become an emerging therapy for treatment of patients with rib fractures. More commonly, it is used in the acute setting; however, delayed SSRF can be utilized for symptomatic rib fracture nonunions. Here, we describe our institution's experience with delayed SSRF, hypothesizing it is safe and resolves patient symptoms. METHODS This is a retrospective review of patients presenting to our Level I trauma center to undergo delayed SSRF for symptomatic nonunions from January 2017 to September 2022. Delayed SSRF was defined as SSRF over 2 weeks in the outpatient setting. Basic demographics were obtained. Outcomes of interest included mean pain score (preoperatively and postoperatively), intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital length of stay (LOS), and resolution of preoperative symptoms, specifically chest wall instability, with return to activities of daily living (ADLs). RESULTS Forty-four patients met inclusion criteria with a total of 156 symptomatic nonunion rib fractures that received delayed SSRF. The average age was 59.2 ± 11.9 years and median number of days from injury to SSRF was 172.5 (interquartile range, 27.5-200). The average number rib fractures plated per patient 3.5 ± 1.8. Only three patients required ICU admission postoperatively for no longer than 2 days. Median hospital LOS was 2 days (interquartile range 1-3 days). Average preoperative and postoperative pain score was 6.8 ± 1.9 and 2.02 ± 1.5, respectively (p < 0.001). Chest wall instability and preoperative symptoms resolved in 93.2% of patients postoperatively (p < 0.001). Two patients (4.5%) had postoperative complications that resolved after additional surgical intervention. Rib fracture healing was demonstrated on radiographic imaging during postoperative follow-up. CONCLUSION Delayed SSRF is safe and demonstrates significant resolution of preoperative symptoms by decreasing pain, improving chest wall stability, and allowing patients to return to activities of daily living. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Therapeutic/Care Management; Level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)880-884
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2023


  • Rib fracture
  • nonunion
  • outcomes
  • surgical stabilization of rib fractures
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Surgery


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