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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 22-28

Preliminary feasibility of a physical therapy protocol following surgical stabilization of rib fractures

Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, Intermountain Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Correspondence Address:
Christina Pelo
Division of Trauma, Intermountain Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jctt.jctt_3_20

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Background: Surgical stabilization of rib fractures (SSRFs) is increasing in popularity. During the operation, disruption of the chest wall musculature occurs, which may affect chest wall and glenohumeral–scapular movement. Although postoperative physical therapy (PT) is widely recommended, specific, validated, protocols for SSRF patients do not exist. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the feasibility and safety of a PT protocol specifically designed for SSRF patients. Methods: This was a pilot study of all SSRF patients admitted to a single level-I trauma center between December 2017 and February 2019. Included patients received a PT evaluation within 72 h of operation. This evaluation included implementation of specific PT interventions and a written home exercise program. Objective measures included: patient reported pain scores, shoulder strength, chest expansion, spirometry, and the disabilities of the arm, shoulder, and hand (DASH) survey. These measures were obtained at initial inpatient evaluation, 1–week and 1–month post discharge in an outpatient visit, and at 3 months through telephone DASH survey. Results: Nineteen patients were analyzed. Patients were primarily male (74%), suffering from blunt trauma, with a median 8 (interquartile range [IQR]: 7–10) rib fractures and Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 17 (12–23). The median (IQR) time from SSRF to PT evaluation was 1 (1–2) day. Median chest expansion doubled from PT evaluation to 1–month follow–up (1.9 cm PT evaluation; 2.5 cm 1 week; 4.5 cm 1–month, P = 0.014). The median age-predicted spirometry improved from 29% preoperatively, to 38% at PT evaluation and to 86% at 1-month postdischarge (P ≤ 0.05 for the trend). Shoulder strength improved from PT evaluation to 1–month follow–up. The median DASH scoring improved at all follow–up intervals, with no clinically significant functional impairments at 3 months (86 on PT evaluation; 56 at 1–week, 21 at 1–month; 8 at 3–month phone interview). Conclusion: A specific, novel, PT protocol for patients after SSRF appears to be feasible and safe. Our results demonstrate a significant decrease in patient-perceived disability, improved shoulder strength, chest expansion, and spirometry compared to immediate postoperative levels. Although we cannot determine the effect of the protocol on recovery, our results provide the preliminary data on which to base a larger, randomized trial to determine if a beneficial effect of the protocol is present.

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