Use of continuous intercostal nerve blockade is associated with improved outcomes in patients with multiple rib fractures

Rindi Uhlich, Jeffrey David Kerby, Patrick Bosarge, Parker Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Rib fractures are common among trauma patients and may result in significant morbidity and mortality. There are numerous treatment options, but ideal management is unclear. Delivery of local anesthetic via an analgesia catheter for continuous intercostal nerve blockade offers an attractive potential option for management of patients with rib fractures. Methods We performed a single-center, retrospective case-control analysis of trauma patients with multiple rib fractures from 2016 to 2018, comparing patients managed with continuous intercostal nerve blockade with standard care. Matching was performed in a 2:1 ratio by Injury Severity Score, age, and gender. Respiratory morbidity potentially secondary to rib fractures, including unplanned intubation, failure of extubation, need for tracheostomy, pneumonia, or mortality, were all identified and included. Potential complications due to catheter insertion were identified to be recorded. The primary outcome of interest was 30-day hospital-free days. Results Nine hundred and thirty-three patients were eligible for analysis, with 48 managed using intercostal blockade compared with 96 matching controls. No complications of intercostal blockade were identified during the study period. Controls demonstrated fewer rib fractures (6.60±4.11 vs. 9.3±3.73, p=0.001) and fewer flail segments (0.8±1.76 vs. 2.0±2.94, p=0.02). Those managed with intercostal blockade demonstrated significantly more 30-day hospital-free days (15.9±6.43 vs. 13.2±9.94, p=0.048), less incidence of pneumonia (4.2% vs. 16.7%, p=0.03), and lower hospital mortality (2.1% vs. 13.5%, p=0.03). When adjusting for number of rib fractures and number of flail segments, use of continuous intercostal nerve blockade was significantly associated with lower hospital mortality (OR 0.10; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.91), pneumonia (OR 0.15; 95% CI 0.03 to 0.76), or need for tracheostomy (OR 0.23; 95% CI 0.06 to 0.83). Discussion The addition of continuous intercostal nerve blockade may help to improve outcomes in patients with multiple rib fractures compared with standard care alone. Level of evidence Therapeutic/care management; level IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere000600
JournalTrauma Surgery and Acute Care Open
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 26 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • analgesics
  • nerve block
  • opioid
  • rib fractures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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