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FOTO Rehab Outcomes Blog

When is Chest Pain a Fractured Rib?

Since many physical therapists have some level of direct access (or what physiotherapists refer to as self-referral), I tend to keep my eyes open for research that helps me with differential diagnosis.

Chest pain... now that could have a scary complication, right? Is there a way to come to a conclusion that the person has a rib fracture? I find it interesting that history of recent trauma and age greater than 40 years were predictive factors. I wonder if pain with inhalation or coughing were considered?

Below you will find a quick view of the abstract.


Clinical and Radiologic Predictive Factors of Rib Fractures in Outpatients With Chest Pain.




To identify the clinical and radiologic predictive factors of rib fractures in stable adult outpatients presenting with chest pain and to determine the utility of dedicated rib radiographs in this population of patients.


Following Institutional Review Board approval, we performed a retrospective review of 339 consecutive cases in which a frontal chest radiograph and dedicated rib series had been obtained for chest pain in the outpatient setting. The frontal chest radiograph and dedicated rib series were sequentially reviewed in consensus by two fellowship-trained musculoskeletal radiologists blinded to the initial report. The consensus interpretation of the dedicated rib series was used as the gold standard. Multiple variable logistic regression analysis assessed clinical and radiological factors associated with rib fractures. Fisher exact test was used to assess differences in medical treatment between the 2 groups.


Of the 339 patients, 53 (15.6%) had at least 1 rib fracture. Only 20 of the 53 (37.7%) patients' fractures could be identified on the frontal chest radiograph. The frontal chest radiograph had a sensitivity of 38% and specificity of 100% when using the rib series as the reference standard. No pneumothorax, new mediastinal widening or pulmonary contusion was identified. Multiple variable logistic regression analysis of clinical factors associated with the presence of rib fractures revealed a significant association of trauma history (odds ratio 5.7 [p < 0.05]) and age ≥40 (odds radio 3.1 [p < 0.05]). Multiple variable logistic regression analysis of radiographic factors associated with rib fractures in this population demonstrated a significant association of pleural effusion with rib fractures (odds ratio 18.9 [p < 0.05]). Patients with rib fractures received narcotic analgesia in 47.2% of the cases, significantly more than those without rib fractures (21.3%, p < 0.05). None of the patients required hospitalization.


In the stable outpatient setting, rib fractures have a higher association with a history of minor trauma and age ≥40 in the adult population. Radiographic findings associated with rib fractures include pleural effusion. The frontal chest radiograph alone has low sensitivity in detecting rib fractures. The dedicated rib series detected a greater number of rib fractures. Although no patients required hospitalization, those with rib fractures were more likely to receive narcotic analgesia.

 2017 May 30. pii: S0363-0188(17)30030-0. doi: 10.1067/j.cpradiol.2017.05.011. [Epub ahead of print]