OBJECTIVE:: To perform a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies comparing operative to nonoperative therapy in adult FC patients. Outcomes were duration of mechanical ventilation (DMV), intensive care unit length of stay (ICULOS), hospital length of stay (HLOS), mortality, incidence of pneumonia, and tracheostomy. BACKGROUND:: Flail chest (FC) results in paradoxical chest wall movement, altered respiratory mechanics, and frequent respiratory failure. Despite advances in ventilatory management, FC remains associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Operative fixation of the flail segment has been advocated as an adjunct to supportive care, but no definitive clinical trial exists to delineate the role of surgery. METHODS:: A comprehensive search of 5 electronic databases was performed to identify randomized controlled trials and observational studies (cohort or case-control). Pooled effect size (ES) or relative risk (RR) was calculated using a fixed or random effects model, as appropriate. RESULTS:: Nine studies with a total of 538 patients met inclusion criteria. Compared with control treatment, operative management of FC was associated with shorter DMV [pooled ES:-4.52 days; 95% confidence interval (CI):-5.54 to-3.50], ICULOS (-3.40 days; 95% CI:-6.01 to-0.79), HLOS (-3.82 days; 95% CI:-7.12 to-0.54), and decreased mortality (pooled RR: 0.44; 95% CI: 0.28-0.69), pneumonia (0.45; 95% CI: 0.30-0.69), and tracheostomy (0.25; 95% CI: 0.13-0.47). CONCLUSIONS:: As compared with nonoperative therapy, operative fixation of FC is associated with reductions in DMV, LOS, mortality, and complications associated with prolonged MV. These findings support the need for an adequately powered clinical study to further define the role of this intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)914-921
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • flail chest
  • meta-analysis
  • rib fracture
  • surgical procedures


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