Surgical emphysema (summary)

Dr Henry Knipe and Dr Jeremy Jones et al.

Surgical emphysema (or subcutaneous emphysema) occurs when air/gas is located in the subcutaneous tissues (the layer under the skin). This usually occurs in the chest, face or neck.

Reference article

This is a summary article; read more in our article on surgical emphysema.


  • pathophysiology
    • gas within the soft tissues
    • causes
      • tracheobronchial perforation with gas tracking
      • penetrating trauma
  • radiographic features
    • chest x-ray
      • gas within the soft tissues
      • easy to see in the neck and upper chest
      • may have a strange appearance with overlying structures
    • CT chest
      • much more readily demonstrated on a CT
      • pockets of air located seen as dark areas located in the subcutaneous space of the affected tissues​
Medical student radiology curriculum
Share article

Article information

rID: 31298
System: Chest
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and figures

  • Drag
    Case 1: surgical emphysema
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 2: post-traumatic surgical emphysema
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 3: spontaneous air everywhere
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.