Safety and effectiveness of surgical fixation versus non‑surgical methods for the treatment of flail chest in adult populations: a systematic review and meta‑analysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External organisations

  • University of Birmingham


Purpose The objective of this systematic review is to compare the safety and efficacy of surgical fixation of rib fractures against non-surgical interventions for the treatment of flail chest in the adult population. Methods A search was performed on the 22nd of July 2020 to identify articles comparing surgical fixation versus clinical management for flail chest in adults, with a description of the outcome parameters (resource utility, mortality, adverse effects of the intervention and adverse progression in pulmonary status). Relevant randomised controlled trials were selected, their risk of bias assessed, and the data then extracted and analysed. Results 157 patients were included from four studies in the analyses, with 79 and 78 patients in the surgical and non-surgical groups, respectively. The pooled effects of all outcomes tended towards favouring surgical intervention. Surgical intervention was associated with lower rates of pneumonia (I2 = 46%, Tau2 = 0.16, p = 0.16), significantly lower rates of tracheostomy (I2 = 76%, Tau2 = 0.67, p = 0.02), and a significantly lower duration of mechanical ventilation (I2 = 88%, Tau2 = 33.7, p < 0.01) in comparison to the non-surgical management methods. Conclusion Our results suggest that surgical intervention reduces the need for tracheostomy, reduces the time spent in the intensive care unit following a traumatic flail chest injury and could reduce the risk of acquiring pneumonia after such an event. There is a need for further well-designed studies with sufficient sample sizes to confirm the results of this study and also detect other possible effects of surgical intervention in the treatment of traumatic flail chest in adults.


Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery
Early online date6 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Feb 2021


  • Conservative management, Conservative treatment, Flail chest, Surgery, Surgical procedure