BACKGROUND: Multiple rib fractures are common in trauma patients, who are prone to trauma-associated complications. Surgical or nonsurgical interventions for the aforementioned conditions remain controversial.

QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: The purpose of our study was to perform a meta-analysis to evaluate the clinical prognosis of surgical fixation of multiple rib fractures in terms of (1) hospital-related endpoints (including duration of mechanical ventilation, ICU length of stay [LOS] and hospital LOS), (2) complications, (3) pulmonary function, and (4) pain scores.

METHODS: We screened PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane databases for randomized and prospective studies published before January 2018. Individual effect sizes were standardized; the pooled effect size was calculated using a random-effects model. Primary outcomes were duration of mechanical ventilation, intensive care unit length of stay (ICU LOS), and hospital LOS. Moreover, complications, pulmonary function, and pain were assessed.

RESULTS: The surgical group had a reduced duration of mechanical ventilation (weighted mean difference [WMD], -4.95 days; 95% confidence interval [CI], -7.97 to -1.94; p = 0.001), ICU LOS (WMD, -4.81 days; 95% CI, -6.22 to -3.39; p < 0.001), and hospital LOS (WMD, -8.26 days; 95% CI, -11.73 to -4.79; p < 0.001) compared with the nonsurgical group. Complications likewise were less common in the surgical group, including pneumonia (odds ratio [OR], 0.41; 95% CI, 0.27-0.64; p < 0.001), mortality (OR, 0.24; 95% CI, 0.07-0.87; p = 0.030), chest wall deformity (OR, 0.02; 95% CI. 0.00-0.12; p < 0.001), dyspnea (OR, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.09-0.54; p < 0.001), chest wall tightness (OR, 0.11; 95% CI, 0.05-0.22; p < 0.001) and incidence of tracheostomy (OR, 0.34; 95% CI, 0.20-0.57; p < 0.001). There were no differences between the surgical and nonsurgical groups in terms of pulmonary function, such as forced vital capacity (WMD, 6.81%; 95% CI: -8.86 to 22.48; p = 0.390) and pain scores (WMD, -11.41; 95% CI: -42.09 to 19.26; p = 0.470).

CONCLUSIONS: This meta-analysis lends stronger support to surgical fixation, rather than conservative treatment, for multiple rib fractures. Nevertheless, additional trials should be conducted to investigate surgical indications, timing, and followup for quality of life.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level I, therapeutic study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-205
Number of pages13
JournalClinical Orthopaedics and Related Research
Issue number1
Early online dateSept 11 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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