Three common exposures of the chest wall for rib fixation: anatomical considerations
Although surgical fixation of rib fractures is increasingly being performed around the world, very little has been published on how to access the chest wall itself. Having performed over one hundred rib fixations in our institution in the past five years, our surgical technique has evolved as more has come to be understood about these types of injuries through examination of the literature, our own experience, and discussions with colleagues experienced in treating these patients. Retrospective chart review of our trauma registry revealed prevalent fracture patterns and we sought to describe the three simple approaches to the chest wall that we most commonly use based on these data and validated through cadaveric dissections. What follows is a description of our experience with surgical fixation and analysis of the anatomy based on functional approaches to common injury patterns. Analysis of CT scans of patients with flail chest injuries revealed the most commonly encountered in our patients requiring surgical fixation. We identified three basic incisions used to access the areas of interest in a majority of cases. Careful cadaveric dissections allowed us to provide a detailed description of what portions of the chest wall would be accessible through each with and without sparing of the chest musculature. This paper describes viable options for approaching the chest wall for most rib fracture patterns in need of surgical fixation. This is not comprehensive review, but merely presents some of the effective alternatives to a standard thoracotomy as an approach to the chest wall with the hope and expectation that future publications will expand and improve upon the techniques described here.