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Blunt Chest Trauma

Blunt chest trauma is a non-penetrating traumatic injury to the thoracic cavity. Thoracic traumatic injuries are classified according to the mechanism of injury as blunt or penetrating injuries Penetrating injuries Wounds caused by objects penetrating the skin. Genitourinary Trauma. Different structures can be injured including the chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy ( ribs Ribs A set of twelve curved bones which connect to the vertebral column posteriorly, and terminate anteriorly as costal cartilage. Together, they form a protective cage around the internal thoracic organs. Chest Wall: Anatomy, sternum Sternum A long, narrow, and flat bone commonly known as breastbone occurring in the midsection of the anterior thoracic segment or chest region, which stabilizes the rib cage and serves as the point of origin for several muscles that move the arms, head, and neck. Chest Wall: Anatomy), lungs Lungs Lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system. Lungs are paired viscera located in the thoracic cavity and are composed of spongy tissue. The primary function of the lungs is to oxygenate blood and eliminate CO2. Lungs: Anatomy, heart, major blood vessels, and the esophagus Esophagus The esophagus is a muscular tube-shaped organ of around 25 centimeters in length that connects the pharynx to the stomach. The organ extends from approximately the 6th cervical vertebra to the 11th thoracic vertebra and can be divided grossly into 3 parts: the cervical part, the thoracic part, and the abdominal part. Esophagus: Anatomy. The extent and specific type of thoracic traumatic injury can be identified by a proper history and physical examination supported by adequate imaging studies. Management depends on the specific type of injury.

Last updated: 9 Mar, 2021

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Overview

Definition

Blunt chest trauma is injury and consequential pathology arising from application of significant kinetic forces to the chest that do not cause penetration Penetration X-rays of the thoracic cavity.

Epidemiology

  • United States incidence Incidence The number of new cases of a given disease during a given period in a specified population. It also is used for the rate at which new events occur in a defined population. It is differentiated from prevalence, which refers to all cases in the population at a given time. Measures of Disease Frequency: 12:1,000,000 each day
    • 33% require hospital admission.
    • Responsible for 20%–25% of all deaths (from motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology vehicle collisions)
  • Risk factors associated with a poor outcome:
    • Older age
    • Higher injury severity scores (ISS)

Etiology

  • Motor Motor Neurons which send impulses peripherally to activate muscles or secretory cells. Nervous System: Histology vehicle accidents are the most common cause (80%).
  • Other common causes:
    • Falls
    • Vehicles striking pedestrians
    • Acts of violence
    • Blast injuries

Classification

  • Direct blunt force: object striking the chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy (e.g., fist or bat in assault)
  • Acceleration or deceleration: rapid changes in kinetic energy (e.g., car stopping rapidly)
  • Shear force: forces pushing different parts of the body in opposing directions, often a combination of acceleration and deceleration (e.g., a head-on collision Head-On Collision Multitrauma of 2 moving cars)
  • Compression: crush injury Crush injury Excessive compression of parts of the body that causes muscle swelling, fracture, and/or neurological disturbances in the affected areas. Crush injury with systemic manifestations is referred to as crush syndrome. Crush Syndrome (e.g., heavy object falling on a person)
  • Blasts: transfer of energy into chest tissue from concussive wave (e.g., close explosion)

Pathophysiology

The chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy is composed of:

  • Bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Bones: Structure and Types: ribs Ribs A set of twelve curved bones which connect to the vertebral column posteriorly, and terminate anteriorly as costal cartilage. Together, they form a protective cage around the internal thoracic organs. Chest Wall: Anatomy and intercostal cartilage Cartilage Cartilage is a type of connective tissue derived from embryonic mesenchyme that is responsible for structural support, resilience, and the smoothness of physical actions. Perichondrium (connective tissue membrane surrounding cartilage) compensates for the absence of vasculature in cartilage by providing nutrition and support. Cartilage: Histology
  • Musculature: intercostal and pectoral muscle groups
  • Neurovasculature: intercostal nerves, arteries Arteries Arteries are tubular collections of cells that transport oxygenated blood and nutrients from the heart to the tissues of the body. The blood passes through the arteries in order of decreasing luminal diameter, starting in the largest artery (the aorta) and ending in the small arterioles. Arteries are classified into 3 types: large elastic arteries, medium muscular arteries, and small arteries and arterioles. Arteries: Histology, and veins Veins Veins are tubular collections of cells, which transport deoxygenated blood and waste from the capillary beds back to the heart. Veins are classified into 3 types: small veins/venules, medium veins, and large veins. Each type contains 3 primary layers: tunica intima, tunica media, and tunica adventitia. Veins: Histology 
  • Connective tissues: visceral and parietal pleura Parietal pleura Pleuritis

The chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy‘s function is to absorb trauma and protect underlying vulnerable structures from damage:

  • Chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy structures: 
    • Fractures of ribs Ribs A set of twelve curved bones which connect to the vertebral column posteriorly, and terminate anteriorly as costal cartilage. Together, they form a protective cage around the internal thoracic organs. Chest Wall: Anatomy, clavicles, or cartilage Cartilage Cartilage is a type of connective tissue derived from embryonic mesenchyme that is responsible for structural support, resilience, and the smoothness of physical actions. Perichondrium (connective tissue membrane surrounding cartilage) compensates for the absence of vasculature in cartilage by providing nutrition and support. Cartilage: Histology
    • Ecchymosis Ecchymosis Extravasation of blood into the skin, resulting in a nonelevated, rounded or irregular, blue or purplish patch, larger than a petechia. Orbital Fractures, laceration, or crush injury Crush injury Excessive compression of parts of the body that causes muscle swelling, fracture, and/or neurological disturbances in the affected areas. Crush injury with systemic manifestations is referred to as crush syndrome. Crush Syndrome of musculature and skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Skin: Structure and Functions
    • Accumulation of blood or air in the potential pleural space Pleural space The thin serous membrane enveloping the lungs (lung) and lining the thoracic cavity. Pleura consist of two layers, the inner visceral pleura lying next to the pulmonary parenchyma and the outer parietal pleura. Between the two layers is the pleural cavity which contains a thin film of liquid. Pleuritis
  • Underlying structures: 
    • Injury to the aorta Aorta The main trunk of the systemic arteries. Mediastinum and Great Vessels: Anatomy and other major blood vessels
    • Bruising of the lungs Lungs Lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system. Lungs are paired viscera located in the thoracic cavity and are composed of spongy tissue. The primary function of the lungs is to oxygenate blood and eliminate CO2. Lungs: Anatomy
    • Bruising/laceration of the heart

Initial Approach to the Trauma Patient

Physical exam

The suspected mechanism of injury should prompt suspicion for blunt chest trauma. Treatment algorithms and guidelines direct evaluation:

  • Primary survey Primary Survey Thoracic Trauma in Children airway Airway ABCDE Assessment, breathing, and circulation Circulation The movement of the blood as it is pumped through the cardiovascular system. ABCDE Assessment (ABC):
    • Airway Airway ABCDE Assessment:
      • Look for foreign objects blocking airway Airway ABCDE Assessment (loose teeth Teeth Normally, an adult has 32 teeth: 16 maxillary and 16 mandibular. These teeth are divided into 4 quadrants with 8 teeth each. Each quadrant consists of 2 incisors (dentes incisivi), 1 canine (dens caninus), 2 premolars (dentes premolares), and 3 molars (dentes molares). Teeth are composed of enamel, dentin, and dental cement. Teeth: Anatomy are common foreign bodies in high-force trauma).
      • Assess for injury to the trachea Trachea The trachea is a tubular structure that forms part of the lower respiratory tract. The trachea is continuous superiorly with the larynx and inferiorly becomes the bronchial tree within the lungs. The trachea consists of a support frame of semicircular, or C-shaped, rings made out of hyaline cartilage and reinforced by collagenous connective tissue. Trachea: Anatomy (tracheal injury means intubation Intubation Peritonsillar Abscess will be complex).
      • Listen for unusual breathing sounds ( stridor Stridor Laryngomalacia and Tracheomalacia suggests narrowing by a foreign body Foreign Body Foreign Body Aspiration or edema Edema Edema is a condition in which excess serous fluid accumulates in the body cavity or interstitial space of connective tissues. Edema is a symptom observed in several medical conditions. It can be categorized into 2 types, namely, peripheral (in the extremities) and internal (in an organ or body cavity). Edema).
    • Breathing:
      • Look at chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy movement for even and spontaneous breathing (uneven chest movement suggests “ flail chest Flail chest Flail chest is a life-threatening traumatic injury that occurs when 3 or more contiguous ribs are fractured in 2 or more different locations. Patients present with chest pain, tachypnea, hypoxia, and paradoxical chest wall movement. Flail Chest”).
      • Listen to breath sounds (muffled or uneven may suggest pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax or hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax).
    • Circulation Circulation The movement of the blood as it is pumped through the cardiovascular system. ABCDE Assessment:
      • Palpate pulses on all 4 extremities ( tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children suggests hemodynamic instability or pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax).
      • Assess capillary refill on extremities.
  • Secondary survey Secondary Survey ABCDE Assessment:
    • Mechanism of injury:
      • Helps determine severity of injury
      • May indicate what chest structures are injured
    • Close inspection Inspection Dermatologic Examination of the chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy: Seatbelt or steering wheel imprint suggests severe injury.

Imaging

While the initial approach to stabilizing a patient with chest trauma is standardized, further imaging and testing is dependent on the injury discovered during the initial assessment.

Choosing the best imaging studies depends on the patient’s hemodynamic stability:

  • Chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests and focused assessment with sonography Sonography The visualization of deep structures of the body by recording the reflections or echoes of ultrasonic pulses directed into the tissues. Use of ultrasound for imaging or diagnostic purposes employs frequencies ranging from 1. 6 to 10 megahertz. Diagnostic Procedures in Gynecology in trauma (FAST) → initial diagnostic studies
  • Only stable patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship can undergo a computed tomography (CT) scan.
  • Unstable patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship → emergent surgery must be considered

Injury to the Chest Wall

Rib fracture Rib fracture Fractures of any of the ribs. Thoracic Trauma in Children

  • Clinical features:
    • Pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways is localized and reproducible by taking a deep breath Deep breath Respiratory Alkalosis.
    • Location of pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways points to possible further underlying injury:
      • 1st rib: possible trauma of lung apices, subclavian vessels
      • 2nd rib: possible ascending aorta Ascending aorta Mediastinum and Great Vessels: Anatomy, superior vena cava Superior vena cava The venous trunk which returns blood from the head, neck, upper extremities and chest. Mediastinum and Great Vessels: Anatomy trauma
      • 10th rib: possible diaphragmatic, liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver: Anatomy, splenic injury
      • 11th rib: possible diaphragmatic, liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver: Anatomy, splenic injury
      • 12th rib: possible renal injury
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging:
    • X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests (appropriate for stable patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship):
      • Posteroanterior (PA) chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests 
      • Poor sensitivity Sensitivity Binary classification measures to assess test results. Sensitivity or recall rate is the proportion of true positives. Blotting Techniques, but useful to identify associated pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax, hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax, pulmonary contusion Pulmonary Contusion Flail Chest
    • CT scan (suggested for more severe injury):
    • Ultrasound:
      • Less commonly used
      • Useful in detailing extent of associated pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax, hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax, pulmonary contusion Pulmonary Contusion Flail Chest
  • Management:
    • Pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways control: 
      • Allows patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship to take deep breaths, decreases associated pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia or pulmonary inflammation is an acute or chronic inflammation of lung tissue. Causes include infection with bacteria, viruses, or fungi. In more rare cases, pneumonia can also be caused through toxic triggers through inhalation of toxic substances, immunological processes, or in the course of radiotherapy. Pneumonia
      • Nerve blocks, opioids Opioids Opiates are drugs that are derived from the sap of the opium poppy. Opiates have been used since antiquity for the relief of acute severe pain. Opioids are synthetic opiates with properties that are substantially similar to those of opiates. Opioid Analgesics, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ( NSAID NSAID Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a class of medications consisting of aspirin, reversible NSAIDs, and selective NSAIDs. NSAIDs are used as antiplatelet, analgesic, antipyretic, and antiinflammatory agents. Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)) choice based on severity of pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways
    • Respiratory therapy: incentive spirometry Spirometry Measurement of volume of air inhaled or exhaled by the lung. Pulmonary Function Tests
    • Surgical fixation:
      • Rarely necessary with a simple fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures
      • Performed when there is associated chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy deformity Deformity Examination of the Upper Limbs, flail chest Flail chest Flail chest is a life-threatening traumatic injury that occurs when 3 or more contiguous ribs are fractured in 2 or more different locations. Patients present with chest pain, tachypnea, hypoxia, and paradoxical chest wall movement. Flail Chest, or symptomatic non-union

Flail chest Flail chest Flail chest is a life-threatening traumatic injury that occurs when 3 or more contiguous ribs are fractured in 2 or more different locations. Patients present with chest pain, tachypnea, hypoxia, and paradoxical chest wall movement. Flail Chest

  • Clinical features:
  • Physical exam findings:
    • Similar finding to simple rib fractures Rib fractures Fractures of any of the ribs. Flail Chest
    • 3 or more adjacent ribs Ribs A set of twelve curved bones which connect to the vertebral column posteriorly, and terminate anteriorly as costal cartilage. Together, they form a protective cage around the internal thoracic organs. Chest Wall: Anatomy are each fractured in 2 places.
    • Segment of thoracic wall moves opposite to the rest during breathing (paradoxic movement).
  • Imaging: 
    • X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests may show multiple rib fractures Rib fractures Fractures of any of the ribs. Flail Chest.
    • CT is usually employed for better anatomic detail.
  • Management:
    • Supplemental oxygen Supplemental Oxygen Respiratory Failure
    • Pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways control
    • Positive pressure ventilation Positive pressure ventilation Application of positive pressure to the inspiratory phase when the patient has an artificial airway in place and is connected to a ventilator. Flail Chest ( PPV PPV The positive predictive value is the percentage of people with a positive test result who actually have the disease among all people with a positive result, regardless of whether or not they have the disease. Epidemiological Values of Diagnostic Tests) for respiratory failure Respiratory failure Respiratory failure is a syndrome that develops when the respiratory system is unable to maintain oxygenation and/or ventilation. Respiratory failure may be acute or chronic and is classified as hypoxemic, hypercapnic, or a combination of the two. Respiratory Failure
Flail chest

Flail chest Flail chest Flail chest is a life-threatening traumatic injury that occurs when 3 or more contiguous ribs are fractured in 2 or more different locations. Patients present with chest pain, tachypnea, hypoxia, and paradoxical chest wall movement. Flail Chest: fractured ribs Ribs A set of twelve curved bones which connect to the vertebral column posteriorly, and terminate anteriorly as costal cartilage. Together, they form a protective cage around the internal thoracic organs. Chest Wall: Anatomy that move paradoxically in comparison to the chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy

Image by Lecturio.

Clavicle Clavicle A bone on the ventral side of the shoulder girdle, which in humans is commonly called the collar bone. Clavicle Fracture fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures

  • Clinical features:
    • Localized pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways to palpation Palpation Application of fingers with light pressure to the surface of the body to determine consistency of parts beneath in physical diagnosis; includes palpation for determining the outlines of organs. Dermatologic Examination
    • Pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways on rotation Rotation Motion of an object in which either one or more points on a line are fixed. It is also the motion of a particle about a fixed point. X-rays of shoulder
    • Sensation of cracking/popping with movement 
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging: X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests is sufficient to define the location and severity of injury.
  • Management:
    • Pain management Pain Management Pain is defined as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. Pain is a subjective experience. Acute pain lasts < 3 months and typically has a specific, identifiable cause. Pain Management/icing
    • Immobilization Immobilization Delirium with brace restricting shoulder motion to < 30° of abduction Abduction Examination of the Upper Limbs, forward flexion Flexion Examination of the Upper Limbs, or extension Extension Examination of the Upper Limbs
    • Indications for surgery include:
      • Open fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures
      • Bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Bones: Structure and Types displacement Displacement The process by which an emotional or behavioral response that is appropriate for one situation appears in another situation for which it is inappropriate. Defense Mechanisms
      • Neurovascular injury
      • Skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Skin: Structure and Functions tenting

Sternal fractures

  • Clinical features:
    • Localized pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways to sternum Sternum A long, narrow, and flat bone commonly known as breastbone occurring in the midsection of the anterior thoracic segment or chest region, which stabilizes the rib cage and serves as the point of origin for several muscles that move the arms, head, and neck. Chest Wall: Anatomy
    • Very strong forces necessary, so usually associated with other internal injuries
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging:
    • Ultrasound is used to screen.
    • Chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests has poor sensitivity Sensitivity Binary classification measures to assess test results. Sensitivity or recall rate is the proportion of true positives. Blotting Techniques.
    • CT chest and electrocardiogram Electrocardiogram An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG) ( ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG)) should be performed for possible associated injuries.
  • Management:
    • Stable patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship with isolated sternal fractures: Outpatient management is reasonable.
    • More complex fractures with associated pathology: require surgical consultation for management
Sternal fracture ct

Chest CT showing comminuted sternal fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures:
Fractures of the sternum Sternum A long, narrow, and flat bone commonly known as breastbone occurring in the midsection of the anterior thoracic segment or chest region, which stabilizes the rib cage and serves as the point of origin for several muscles that move the arms, head, and neck. Chest Wall: Anatomy can occur during high-energy chest traumas and can be simple (meaning a single fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures) or comminuted (where the bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Bones: Structure and Types breaks into multiple fragments). Usually, fractures of the sternum Sternum A long, narrow, and flat bone commonly known as breastbone occurring in the midsection of the anterior thoracic segment or chest region, which stabilizes the rib cage and serves as the point of origin for several muscles that move the arms, head, and neck. Chest Wall: Anatomy are associated with underlying injury of the lungs Lungs Lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system. Lungs are paired viscera located in the thoracic cavity and are composed of spongy tissue. The primary function of the lungs is to oxygenate blood and eliminate CO2. Lungs: Anatomy or heart.

Image: “Sternal fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures CT” by Monkhouse SJ, Kelly MD. License: CC BY 2.0

Injury to the Lungs

Pulmonary contusion Pulmonary Contusion Flail Chest

  • Clinical features:
  • Physical exam findings:
    • Contusion or deformity Deformity Examination of the Upper Limbs of the chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy
    • Lack of chest wall Chest wall The chest wall consists of skin, fat, muscles, bones, and cartilage. The bony structure of the chest wall is composed of the ribs, sternum, and thoracic vertebrae. The chest wall serves as armor for the vital intrathoracic organs and provides the stability necessary for the movement of the shoulders and arms. Chest Wall: Anatomy findings does not rule out pulmonary contusion Pulmonary Contusion Flail Chest.
  • Imaging:
    • X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests shows irregular, non-lobular, homogenous opacification of lung fields.
    • May lag behind or not be visible on X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests
    • CT can provide better anatomic detail.
  • Management:

Simple pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax

  • Clinical features:
    • Acute dyspnea Acute Dyspnea Dyspnea
    • Sudden-onset, unilateral (usually) chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain corresponding to side of collapsed lung
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging:  chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests 
    • Modality of choice
  • Management:
    • Small (≤ 2-cm) stable pneumothoraces:
      • Self-resolve without intervention
      • Support with oxygen as needed.
    • Emergent symptomatic: needle decompression Needle Decompression Pneumothorax 
    • Symptomatic or small pneumothoraces that fail to self-resolve: chest tube placement Tube placement Surgical procedure involving the creation of an opening (stoma) into the chest cavity for drainage; used in the treatment of pleural effusion; pneumothorax; hemothorax; and empyema. Thoracic Surgery
Chest x-ray showing left pneumothorax

Chest radiograph demonstrating a left pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax:
The green line outlines the pleural line. Notice the lack of bronchovascular markings beyond that line.

Image: “Anteroposterior expired X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests” by Mikael Häggström, M.D. License: CC0, edited by Lecturio.

Tension pneumothorax Tension Pneumothorax Pneumothorax

  • Clinical features:
    • Acute dyspnea Acute Dyspnea Dyspnea
    • Sudden-onset, unilateral (usually) chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain corresponding to side of collapsed lung
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging:  chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests
    • Modality of choice
  • Management:
    • Emergent needle decompression Needle Decompression Pneumothorax
    • Thoracostomy Thoracostomy Surgical procedure involving the creation of an opening (stoma) into the chest cavity for drainage; used in the treatment of pleural effusion; pneumothorax; hemothorax; and empyema. Hemothorax tube placement Tube placement Surgical procedure involving the creation of an opening (stoma) into the chest cavity for drainage; used in the treatment of pleural effusion; pneumothorax; hemothorax; and empyema. Thoracic Surgery to prevent re-accumulation of air
Tension pneumothorax

Tension pneumothorax Tension Pneumothorax Pneumothorax:
Spontaneous and traumatic pneumothoraces can develop into a tension pneumothorax Tension Pneumothorax Pneumothorax if the defect that allows air into the pleural space Pleural space The thin serous membrane enveloping the lungs (lung) and lining the thoracic cavity. Pleura consist of two layers, the inner visceral pleura lying next to the pulmonary parenchyma and the outer parietal pleura. Between the two layers is the pleural cavity which contains a thin film of liquid. Pleuritis becomes a 1-way valve (air enters during inspiration Inspiration Ventilation: Mechanics of Breathing, but cannot escape Escape With constant immune mechanisms holding unstable tumor cells in equilibrium, tumor-cell variants may emerge. These cancer cells may express fewer antigens on their surfaces or lose their MHC class I expression.Variants may also protect themselves from T-cell attack via expression of IC molecules on their surfaces, like normal cells.Creation of an immunosuppressive state in the microenvironment is another way to grow without immunologic interference. Cancer Immunotherapy during expiration Expiration Ventilation: Mechanics of Breathing), which causes rising pressure in the pleural cavity Pleural cavity Paired but separate cavity within the thoracic cavity. It consists of the space between the parietal and visceral pleura and normally contains a capillary layer of serous fluid that lubricates the pleural surfaces. Pleura: Anatomy, shifting the mediastinum Mediastinum The mediastinum is the thoracic area between the 2 pleural cavities. The mediastinum contains vital structures of the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems including the heart and esophagus, and major thoracic vessels. Mediastinum and Great Vessels: Anatomy to the contralateral side.

Image by Lecturio.

Hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax

  • Clinical features:
    • Chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain
    • Acute onset dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea
  • Physical exam findings:
    • ↓ Breath sounds
    • Dullness on percussion Percussion Act of striking a part with short, sharp blows as an aid in diagnosing the condition beneath the sound obtained. Pulmonary Examination
    • Tracheal deviation Tracheal Deviation Pneumothorax, mediastinal shift
    • ↓ Tactile vocal fremitus
    • Signs of hemorrhagic shock Shock Shock is a life-threatening condition associated with impaired circulation that results in tissue hypoxia. The different types of shock are based on the underlying cause: distributive (↑ cardiac output (CO), ↓ systemic vascular resistance (SVR)), cardiogenic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), hypovolemic (↓ CO, ↑ SVR), obstructive (↓ CO), and mixed. Types of Shock in large hemothoraces:
      • Hypotension Hypotension Hypotension is defined as low blood pressure, specifically < 90/60 mm Hg, and is most commonly a physiologic response. Hypotension may be mild, serious, or life threatening, depending on the cause. Hypotension
      • Tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children
      • Tachypnea Tachypnea Increased respiratory rate. Pulmonary Examination
      • Jugular venous pressure Jugular Venous Pressure Portal Hypertension
  • Imaging: 
    • Chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests
      • Best initial diagnostic study
      • Upright imaging shows layering of blood.
      • Supine imaging shows haziness or opacity Opacity Imaging of the Lungs and Pleura (whiteout).
      • May also show free air if pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax is present
    • Ultrasound of lungs Lungs Lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system. Lungs are paired viscera located in the thoracic cavity and are composed of spongy tissue. The primary function of the lungs is to oxygenate blood and eliminate CO2. Lungs: Anatomy:
      • Part of extended focused assessment with sonography Sonography The visualization of deep structures of the body by recording the reflections or echoes of ultrasonic pulses directed into the tissues. Use of ultrasound for imaging or diagnostic purposes employs frequencies ranging from 1. 6 to 10 megahertz. Diagnostic Procedures in Gynecology in trauma ( e-FAST E-FAST Focused Assessment with Sonography for Trauma (FAST)) exam
      • Able to be obtained quickly
      • Can show complex fluid in pleural cavity Pleural cavity Paired but separate cavity within the thoracic cavity. It consists of the space between the parietal and visceral pleura and normally contains a capillary layer of serous fluid that lubricates the pleural surfaces. Pleura: Anatomy
      • More sensitive than chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests in detecting hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax, but is technician dependent
    • Chest CT definitive imaging choice:
      • Should only be obtained if patient is stable 
      • CT can show other associated pathology.
      • CT angiogram CT angiogram A non-invasive method that uses a ct scanner for capturing images of blood vessels and tissues. A contrast material is injected, which helps produce detailed images that aid in diagnosing vascular diseases. Pulmonary Function Tests can show the source of bleeding.
  • Management:
    • Chest tube
    • Thoracotomy Thoracotomy Surgical incision into the chest wall. Thoracic Surgery (if > 1.5 L blood drained directly or continuous high output)

Injury to the Airway

Tracheobronchial tear

  • Clinical features:
    • Airway Airway ABCDE Assessment obstruction causing stridor Stridor Laryngomalacia and Tracheomalacia, marked dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea, and respiratory failure Respiratory failure Respiratory failure is a syndrome that develops when the respiratory system is unable to maintain oxygenation and/or ventilation. Respiratory failure may be acute or chronic and is classified as hypoxemic, hypercapnic, or a combination of the two. Respiratory Failure
    • Hemoptysis Hemoptysis Hemoptysis is defined as the expectoration of blood originating in the lower respiratory tract. Hemoptysis is a consequence of another disease process and can be classified as either life threatening or non-life threatening. Hemoptysis can result in significant morbidity and mortality due to both drowning (reduced gas exchange as the lungs fill with blood) and hemorrhagic shock. Hemoptysis
    • Failure of pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax to resolve even when chest tube is placed (due to continuous air leak)
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging: 
    • Chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests or CT depending on availability 
    • Pneumomediastinum Pneumomediastinum Mediastinitis (air trapping in center of chest cavity)
    • Hyoid bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Bones: Structure and Types elevation above the 3rd cervical vertebrae Cervical vertebrae The first seven vertebrae of the spinal column, which correspond to the vertebrae of the neck. Vertebral Column: Anatomy
  • Management:

Injury to the Heart

Cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) tamponade Tamponade Pericardial effusion, usually of rapid onset, exceeding ventricular filling pressures and causing collapse of the heart with a markedly reduced cardiac output. Pericarditis

  • Clinical features:
    • Symptoms of cardiogenic shock
    • Dyspnea and tachypnea
    • Chest discomfort or pressure
  • Physical exam findings:
    • Beck’s triad: 
      • Hypotension
      • ↑ JVP
      • Muffled heart sounds
    • Pulsus paradoxus: disproportionately large drop in systolic blood pressure on inspiration
    • Pericardial rub: audible crescendo-decrescendo extra heart sound, often described as grating noise 
  • Imaging: 
  • Management: Echocardiography Echocardiography Ultrasonic recording of the size, motion, and composition of the heart and surrounding tissues. The standard approach is transthoracic. Tricuspid Valve Atresia (TVA)-guided pericardiocentesis Pericardiocentesis Puncture and aspiration of fluid from the pericardium. Cardiac Surgery is both diagnostic and therapeutic.

Myocardial contusion

  • Clinical features:
    • Associated sternal fracture Fracture A fracture is a disruption of the cortex of any bone and periosteum and is commonly due to mechanical stress after an injury or accident. Open fractures due to trauma can be a medical emergency. Fractures are frequently associated with automobile accidents, workplace injuries, and trauma. Overview of Bone Fractures
    • Symptoms of cardiac failure Cardiac failure Congestive heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to supply the body with normal cardiac output to meet metabolic needs. Echocardiography can confirm the diagnosis and give information about the ejection fraction. Congestive Heart Failure:
      • Dyspnea Dyspnea Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea
      • Chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain
  • Physical exam findings: may have signs of congestive heart failure Heart Failure A heterogeneous condition in which the heart is unable to pump out sufficient blood to meet the metabolic need of the body. Heart failure can be caused by structural defects, functional abnormalities (ventricular dysfunction), or a sudden overload beyond its capacity. Chronic heart failure is more common than acute heart failure which results from sudden insult to cardiac function, such as myocardial infarction. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR)
  • Imaging: FAST 
  • Management:

Traumatic cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) arrest (commotio cordis)

Commotio cordis

Commotio cordis risk window:
Commotio cordis is a cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) arrest that occurs when the chest over the heart is struck during the portion of the cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) cycle Cycle The type of signal that ends the inspiratory phase delivered by the ventilator Invasive Mechanical Ventilation corresponding with the upstroke of the T wave T wave Electrocardiogram (ECG) on ECG ECG An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a graphic representation of the electrical activity of the heart plotted against time. Adhesive electrodes are affixed to the skin surface allowing measurement of cardiac impulses from many angles. The ECG provides 3-dimensional information about the conduction system of the heart, the myocardium, and other cardiac structures. Electrocardiogram (ECG).

Image: “Commotio Cordis” by Agateller. License: Public Domain

Injury to a Blood Vessel

Traumatic aortic rupture

  • Clinical features:
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging:
    • Chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests often obtained per trauma protocol, can show:
      • Mediastinal widening and deviation
      • Distorted aortic arch Aortic arch Mediastinum and Great Vessels: Anatomy outline
      • Hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax, especially above left lung apex 
    • Chest CT and transesophageal echocardiogram Echocardiogram Transposition of the Great Vessels ( TEE TEE Ultrasonic recording of the size, motion, and composition of the heart and surrounding tissues using a transducer placed in the esophagus. Imaging of the Heart and Great Vessels) are definitive diagnostic modalities.
  • Management:
    • Antihypertensive therapy 
    • Emergent operative repair

Injury to the Esophagus or Diaphragm

Diaphragmatic rupture

  • Clinical features:
    • Respiratory distress 
    • Nausea Nausea An unpleasant sensation in the stomach usually accompanied by the urge to vomit. Common causes are early pregnancy, sea and motion sickness, emotional stress, intense pain, food poisoning, and various enteroviruses. Antiemetics/ vomiting Vomiting The forcible expulsion of the contents of the stomach through the mouth. Hypokalemia
  • Physical exam findings:
    • Should be suspected based on location of injury → diaphragm Diaphragm The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm consists of muscle fibers and a large central tendon, which is divided into right and left parts. As the primary muscle of inspiration, the diaphragm contributes 75% of the total inspiratory muscle force. Diaphragm: Anatomy reaches up to the 4th intercostal space during exhalation
    • Bowel sounds in chest due to bowel herniation Herniation Omphalocele through the diaphragm Diaphragm The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm consists of muscle fibers and a large central tendon, which is divided into right and left parts. As the primary muscle of inspiration, the diaphragm contributes 75% of the total inspiratory muscle force. Diaphragm: Anatomy
    • Decreased lung sounds
    • Dullness on percussion Percussion Act of striking a part with short, sharp blows as an aid in diagnosing the condition beneath the sound obtained. Pulmonary Examination
    • Findings more common on left side (right side is protected by liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver: Anatomy)
  • Imaging—found incidentally on X-ray X-ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted when the inner orbital electrons of an atom are excited and release radiant energy. X-ray wavelengths range from 1 pm to 10 nm. Hard x-rays are the higher energy, shorter wavelength x-rays. Soft x-rays or grenz rays are less energetic and longer in wavelength. The short wavelength end of the x-ray spectrum overlaps the gamma rays wavelength range. The distinction between gamma rays and x-rays is based on their radiation source. Pulmonary Function Tests, CT, and ultrasound performed for trauma evaluation:
    • Elevation of hemidiaphragm
    • Small bowel Small bowel The small intestine is the longest part of the GI tract, extending from the pyloric orifice of the stomach to the ileocecal junction. The small intestine is the major organ responsible for chemical digestion and absorption of nutrients. It is divided into 3 segments: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. Small Intestine: Anatomy in lungs Lungs Lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system. Lungs are paired viscera located in the thoracic cavity and are composed of spongy tissue. The primary function of the lungs is to oxygenate blood and eliminate CO2. Lungs: Anatomy
  • Management: surgical closure
Diaphragmatic rupture

Diaphragmatic rupture:
Rupture of the diaphragm Diaphragm The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm consists of muscle fibers and a large central tendon, which is divided into right and left parts. As the primary muscle of inspiration, the diaphragm contributes 75% of the total inspiratory muscle force. Diaphragm: Anatomy secondary to chest trauma seen on chest X-ray Chest X-ray X-ray visualization of the chest and organs of the thoracic cavity. It is not restricted to visualization of the lungs. Pulmonary Function Tests as bowel contents in the thoracic cavity. Arrow labeled X points to portion of the spleen Spleen The spleen is the largest lymphoid organ in the body, located in the LUQ of the abdomen, superior to the left kidney and posterior to the stomach at the level of the 9th-11th ribs just below the diaphragm. The spleen is highly vascular and acts as an important blood filter, cleansing the blood of pathogens and damaged erythrocytes. Spleen: Anatomy herniating into the chest cavity through a diaphragmatic rupture.

Image: “Diaphragmatic rupture” by Hariharan D, Singhal R, Kinra S, Chilton A. License: CC BY 2.0

Esophageal rupture Esophageal rupture Esophageal rupture or perforation is a transmural defect that occurs in the esophagus, exposing the mediastinum to GI content. The most common cause of esophageal perforation is iatrogenic trauma by instrumentation or surgical procedures. Esophageal Perforation

  • Clinical features—no specific findings, but the following have been seen:
    • Chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain
    • Difficulty swallowing Swallowing The act of taking solids and liquids into the gastrointestinal tract through the mouth and throat. Gastrointestinal Motility
  • Physical exam findings:
  • Imaging: 
  • Management:
    • Antibiotics and supportive care
    • Surgical repair to reduce the risk of significant leakage that can cause a systemic inflammatory response

Clinical Relevance

  • Flail chest Flail chest Flail chest is a life-threatening traumatic injury that occurs when 3 or more contiguous ribs are fractured in 2 or more different locations. Patients present with chest pain, tachypnea, hypoxia, and paradoxical chest wall movement. Flail Chest: a condition that occurs when 3 or more contiguous ribs Ribs A set of twelve curved bones which connect to the vertebral column posteriorly, and terminate anteriorly as costal cartilage. Together, they form a protective cage around the internal thoracic organs. Chest Wall: Anatomy are fractured in 2 or more different locations. Marked by chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain, tachypnea Tachypnea Increased respiratory rate. Pulmonary Examination, hypoxemia Hypoxemia Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and paradoxic thoracic wall movement. Management includes oxygen supplementation, pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways control, and PPV PPV The positive predictive value is the percentage of people with a positive test result who actually have the disease among all people with a positive result, regardless of whether or not they have the disease. Epidemiological Values of Diagnostic Tests if respiratory failure Respiratory failure Respiratory failure is a syndrome that develops when the respiratory system is unable to maintain oxygenation and/or ventilation. Respiratory failure may be acute or chronic and is classified as hypoxemic, hypercapnic, or a combination of the two. Respiratory Failure presents.
  • Hemothorax Hemothorax A hemothorax is a collection of blood in the pleural cavity. Hemothorax most commonly occurs due to damage to the intercostal arteries or from a lung laceration following chest trauma. Hemothorax can also occur as a complication of disease, or hemothorax may be spontaneous or iatrogenic. Hemothorax: a collection of blood in the pleural cavity Pleural cavity Paired but separate cavity within the thoracic cavity. It consists of the space between the parietal and visceral pleura and normally contains a capillary layer of serous fluid that lubricates the pleural surfaces. Pleura: Anatomy. Usually occurs following chest trauma, which leads to lung laceration or damage to intercostal arteries Arteries Arteries are tubular collections of cells that transport oxygenated blood and nutrients from the heart to the tissues of the body. The blood passes through the arteries in order of decreasing luminal diameter, starting in the largest artery (the aorta) and ending in the small arterioles. Arteries are classified into 3 types: large elastic arteries, medium muscular arteries, and small arteries and arterioles. Arteries: Histology. Symptoms include shortness of breath Shortness of breath Dyspnea is the subjective sensation of breathing discomfort. Dyspnea is a normal manifestation of heavy physical or psychological exertion, but also may be caused by underlying conditions (both pulmonary and extrapulmonary). Dyspnea and chest pain Chest Pain Chest pain is one of the most common and challenging complaints that may present in an inpatient and outpatient setting. The differential diagnosis of chest pain is large and includes cardiac, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, musculoskeletal, and psychiatric etiologies. Chest Pain. Signs include hypotension Hypotension Hypotension is defined as low blood pressure, specifically < 90/60 mm Hg, and is most commonly a physiologic response. Hypotension may be mild, serious, or life threatening, depending on the cause. Hypotension, tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children, decreased air entry, tracheal deviation Tracheal Deviation Pneumothorax, and dullness on percussion Percussion Act of striking a part with short, sharp blows as an aid in diagnosing the condition beneath the sound obtained. Pulmonary Examination. Management is chest tube insertion. Thoracotomy Thoracotomy Surgical incision into the chest wall. Thoracic Surgery may be indicated.
  • Pulmonary contusion Pulmonary Contusion Flail Chest: a traumatic parenchymal lung injury. Patients Patients Individuals participating in the health care system for the purpose of receiving therapeutic, diagnostic, or preventive procedures. Clinician–Patient Relationship present with tachypnea Tachypnea Increased respiratory rate. Pulmonary Examination, tachycardia Tachycardia Abnormally rapid heartbeat, usually with a heart rate above 100 beats per minute for adults. Tachycardia accompanied by disturbance in the cardiac depolarization (cardiac arrhythmia) is called tachyarrhythmia. Sepsis in Children, and hypoxemia Hypoxemia Neonatal Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Imaging studies show patchy alveolar infiltrates not restricted by anatomic borders (non-lobar opacification). Management involves oxygen administration, pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways control, chest physiotherapy Physiotherapy Spinal Stenosis, and mechanical ventilation Ventilation The total volume of gas inspired or expired per unit of time, usually measured in liters per minute. Ventilation: Mechanics of Breathing in severe cases.
  • Pneumothorax Pneumothorax A pneumothorax is a life-threatening condition in which air collects in the pleural space, causing partial or full collapse of the lung. A pneumothorax can be traumatic or spontaneous. Patients present with a sudden onset of sharp chest pain, dyspnea, and diminished breath sounds on exam. Pneumothorax: an abnormal collection of air in the pleural space Pleural space The thin serous membrane enveloping the lungs (lung) and lining the thoracic cavity. Pleura consist of two layers, the inner visceral pleura lying next to the pulmonary parenchyma and the outer parietal pleura. Between the two layers is the pleural cavity which contains a thin film of liquid. Pleuritis. Types of pneumothoraces include simple and tension pneumothorax Tension Pneumothorax Pneumothorax. Pneumothoraces can be spontaneous, iatrogenic Iatrogenic Any adverse condition in a patient occurring as the result of treatment by a physician, surgeon, or other health professional, especially infections acquired by a patient during the course of treatment. Anterior Cord Syndrome, or traumatic. Exam shows decreased breath sounds, hyper-resonance Hyper-Resonance Pneumothorax on percussion Percussion Act of striking a part with short, sharp blows as an aid in diagnosing the condition beneath the sound obtained. Pulmonary Examination, tracheal deviation Tracheal Deviation Pneumothorax, mediastinal shift (away from tension pneumothorax Tension Pneumothorax Pneumothorax), decreased tactile vocal fremitus, and distended jugular veins Veins Veins are tubular collections of cells, which transport deoxygenated blood and waste from the capillary beds back to the heart. Veins are classified into 3 types: small veins/venules, medium veins, and large veins. Each type contains 3 primary layers: tunica intima, tunica media, and tunica adventitia. Veins: Histology. Treatment includes needle decompression Needle Decompression Pneumothorax and thoracotomy Thoracotomy Surgical incision into the chest wall. Thoracic Surgery.
  • Cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) tamponade Tamponade Pericardial effusion, usually of rapid onset, exceeding ventricular filling pressures and causing collapse of the heart with a markedly reduced cardiac output. Pericarditis: an accumulation of fluid in the pericardial space Pericardial Space Pericardial Effusion and Cardiac Tamponade, resulting in reduced ventricular filling Ventricular filling Cardiac Cycle and subsequent hemodynamic compromise. Cardiac Cardiac Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) tamponade Tamponade Pericardial effusion, usually of rapid onset, exceeding ventricular filling pressures and causing collapse of the heart with a markedly reduced cardiac output. Pericarditis is a severe form of a pericardial effusion Pericardial effusion Fluid accumulation within the pericardium. Serous effusions are associated with pericardial diseases. Hemopericardium is associated with trauma. Lipid-containing effusion (chylopericardium) results from leakage of thoracic duct. Severe cases can lead to cardiac tamponade. Pericardial Effusion and Cardiac Tamponade. In a trauma setting, the fluid is blood. Physical examination findings include Beck’s triad ( hypotension Hypotension Hypotension is defined as low blood pressure, specifically < 90/60 mm Hg, and is most commonly a physiologic response. Hypotension may be mild, serious, or life threatening, depending on the cause. Hypotension, jugular venous distention, and muffled heart sounds Muffled Heart Sounds Pericardial Effusion and Cardiac Tamponade). Treatment is pericardiocentesis Pericardiocentesis Puncture and aspiration of fluid from the pericardium. Cardiac Surgery.
  • Aortic dissection Aortic dissection Aortic dissection occurs due to shearing stress from pulsatile pressure causing a tear in the tunica intima of the aortic wall. This tear allows blood to flow into the media, creating a “false lumen.” Aortic dissection is most commonly caused by uncontrolled hypertension. Aortic Dissection: occurs when a fissure Fissure A crack or split that extends into the dermis Generalized and Localized Rashes develops in the inner coat ( tunica intima Tunica intima The innermost layer of an artery or vein, made up of one layer of endothelial cells and supported by an internal elastic lamina. Arteries: Histology) of the aortic wall, which causes blood to enter the media layer. Marked by severe pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways, characteristically known as a “tearing pain Pain An unpleasant sensation induced by noxious stimuli which are detected by nerve endings of nociceptive neurons. Pain: Types and Pathways.” Aortic dissection Aortic dissection Aortic dissection occurs due to shearing stress from pulsatile pressure causing a tear in the tunica intima of the aortic wall. This tear allows blood to flow into the media, creating a “false lumen.” Aortic dissection is most commonly caused by uncontrolled hypertension. Aortic Dissection is a serious medical emergency that needs urgent diagnosis and management. Risk factors include hypertension Hypertension Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common disease that manifests as elevated systemic arterial pressures. Hypertension is most often asymptomatic and is found incidentally as part of a routine physical examination or during triage for an unrelated medical encounter. Hypertension, genetic diseases, and trauma. Treatment starts with blood pressure control and often requires cardiovascular surgery for stenting of the aorta Aorta The main trunk of the systemic arteries. Mediastinum and Great Vessels: Anatomy.

References

  1. Legome, E. (2020). Initial evaluation and management of blunt thoracic trauma in adults. UpToDate. Retrieved November 7th, 2020 from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/initial-evaluation-and-management-of-blunt-thoracic-trauma-in-adults
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