Finite element analysis for better evaluation of rib fractures: A pilot study

Zachary M. Bauman, Sven Herrmann, Thomas Kött, Jana Binkley, Charity H. Evans, Andrew Kamien, Samuel Cemaj, Bennett Berning, Emily Cantrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION Modeling rib fracture stability is challenging. Computer-generated finite element analysis (FEA) is an option for assessment of chest wall stability (CWS). The objective is to explore FEA as a means to assess CWS, hypothesizing it is a reliable approach to better understand rib fracture pathophysiology. METHODS Thoracic anatomy was generated from standardized skeletal models with internal/external organs, soft tissue and muscles using Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine data. Material properties were assigned to bone, cartilage, skin and viscera. Simulation was performed using ANSYS Workbench (2020 R2, Canonsburg, PA). Meshing the model was completed identifying 1.3 and 2.1 million elements and nodes. An implicit solver was used for a linear/static FEA with all bony contacts identified and applied. All material behavior was modeled as isotropic/linear elastic. Six load cases were evaluated from a musculoskeletal AnyBody model; forward flexion, right/left lateral bending, right/left axial rotation and 5-kg weight arm lifting. Standard application points, directions of muscle forces, and joint positions were applied. Ten fracture cases (unilateral and bilateral) were defined and 66 model variations were simulated. Forty-three points were applied to each rib in the mid/anterior axillary lines to assess thoracic stability. Three assessment criteria were used to quantify thoracic motion: normalized mean absolute error, normalized root mean square error, and normalized interfragmentary motion. RESULTS All three analyses demonstrated similar findings that rib fracture deformation and loss of CWS was highest for left/right axial rotation. Increased number of ribs fracture demonstrated more fracture deformation and more loss of CWS compared with a flail chest segment involving less ribs. A single rib fracture is associated with 3% loss of CWS. Normalized interfragmentary motion deformation can increases by 230%. Chest wall stability can decrease by over 50% depending on fracture patterns. CONCLUSION Finite element analysis is a promising technology for analyzing CWS. Future studies need to focus on clinical relevance and application of this technology. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE Diagnostic Tests or Criteria; Level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-773
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Finite element analysis
  • chest wall stability
  • computer modeling
  • rib fractures
  • thoracic movement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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