Sternal fractures occur in ~5% of blunt chest trauma with the manubrium being the most commonly injured part.
Acute, severe sternal pain that is worse with respiration with localised tenderness.
Mechanism of injury
Fractures of the sternum can result from both direct and indirect blunt force trauma to the chest with motor vehicle accidents the most common cause 1,3:
- direct: impact on a steering wheel; falls; contact sports; pedestrian vs. car accidents; assaults
- indirect: deceleration injuries from motor vehicle accidents; stress fractures; osteoporotic fractures
- non-accidental injuries in children
Associated injuries are common, occurring in ~50% (range 33-67%) of patients 1,3:
- rib fractures, sternoclavicular joint dislocation
- mediastinal haemorrhage, pneumothorax, haemothorax, cardiac tamponade, cardiac contusion, pulmonary contusion
- thoracic spine compression fracture
- traumatic brain injury
Sternal fractures are best detected on dedicated lateral sternal views as lucent cortical breaches with or without displacement. Undisplaced fractures are poorly visualised on plain x-rays.
- can also be used to assess for sternal fractures
- as with plain X-ray, US can show a cortical fracture or step
- just as accurate as lateral radiographs but less reliable in determining displacement 5
- modality of choice; sagittal reformats most sensitive
- can assess for anterior cortical breach and posterior cortical breach, with the latter being associated with more severe neurovascular injuries 3
Treatment and prognosis
Isolated sternal injuries have a very good outcome with conservative management with most healing in a few months with a very low mortality rate (<1%) 1. However, sternal fractures associated with other injuries have a higher mortality rate.
- sternal foramen: developmental anomaly found in ~5% of the population
- 1. Khoriati AA, Rajakulasingam R, Shah R. Sternal fractures and their management. J Emerg Trauma Shock. 2013;6 (2): 113-6. doi:10.4103/0974-2700.110763 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 2. Scheyerer MJ, Zimmermann SM, Bouaicha S et-al. Location of sternal fractures as a possible marker for associated injuries. Emerg Med Int. 2013;2013: 407589. doi:10.1155/2013/407589 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 3. Emergency Radiology. Springer. (2007) ISBN:3540689087. Read it at Google Books - Find it at Amazon
- 4. Oikonomou A, Prassopoulos P. CT imaging of blunt chest trauma. Insights Imaging. 2011;2 (3): 281-295. doi:10.1007/s13244-011-0072-9 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 5. Engin G, Yekeler E, Gülogˇlu R et-al. Acta Radiologica. 2000;41 (3): . doi:10.1080/028418500127345280
- 6. Gossner J. Relationship of sternal foramina to vital structures of the chest: a computed tomographic study. Anat Res Int. 2013;2013: 780193. doi:10.1155/2013/780193 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation