3D printing can aid surgery for multiple rib fractures

Using 3D printing technology to create models of a patient’s rib fractures can make the reconstruction surgery less invasive and better tailored to the patient.

Rib fractures account for 55 percent to 80 percent of chest injuries. While a rib fracture is often treated with compression bandaging, rib traction and selective mechanical ventilation, it is increasingly accepted that surgery is more effective for patients who suffer multiple rib fractures. However, the thorax is a complex area, and ribs get fractured in different ways. Traditional internal fixation of rib fractures results in large incisions and muscle cutting, which aggravates a patient’s trauma. It can also be very difficult to shape and reposition the ribs during surgery.

The study authors, from Shijiazhuang Third Hospital in Hebei Province, China, examined the use of 3D printing to create models of five patients who needed surgical reconstruction and internal repositioning and fixation of their ribs after fracturing a number of them.

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The 3D models of the fractures were reconstructed and printed from preoperative CT thin slice scans. 3D technology was also used to pre-form a titanium alloy rib locking plate accurately shaped for each patient. The 3D printing enabled the rapid construction of accurate, complete models.

The 3D printing significantly facilitated the operation procedure. It enabled the surgeons to use and refer to the models to determine where to make surgical incisions, how to reduce tissue damage during the surgery, how to reposition the ribs and how best to affix the locking plate. It also helped keep thoracic integrity and reduce pulmonary compilations, according to the study authors.

All of the surgeries were successful with good reconstruction of the thoracic cavity and the chest walls.

The study was published in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

The study authors recommended more clinical experience to provide better services for patients, but found the use of 3D printed models very helpful. “The preoperative application of 3D printing technology can fully reduce the shaping time of intraoperative internal fixator, the difficulty of operation and the injury of patients. Therefore, for some specific types of rib fractures, the preoperative application of 3D printing technology has potential significance in achieving precise and individualized treatment,” they concluded.

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