European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery

, Volume 44, Issue 5, pp 767–771 | Cite as

Decompression of tension pneumothoraces in Asian trauma patients: greater success with lateral approach and longer catheter lengths based on computed tomography chest wall measurements

  • S. GohEmail author
  • W. R. Xu
  • L. T. Teo
Original Article



Our study aims to compare the anterior and lateral approaches for needle thoracostomy (NT) and determine the adequacy of catheter lengths used for NT in Asian trauma patients based on computed tomography chest wall measurements.


A retrospective review of chest computed tomography scans of 583 Singaporean trauma patients during period of 2011–2015 was conducted. Four measurements of chest wall thickness (CWT) were taken at the second intercostal space, midclavicular line and fifth intercostal space, midaxillary line bilaterally. Measurements were from the superficial skin layer of the chest wall to the pleural space. Successful NT was defined radiologically as CWT ≤ 5 cm.


There were 593 eligible subjects. Mean age was 49.1 years (49.1 ± 21.0). Majority were males (77.0%) and Chinese (70.2%). Mean CWT for the anterior approach was 4.04 cm (CI 3.19–4.68) on the left and 3.92 cm (CI 3.17–4.63) on the right. Mean CWT for the lateral approach was 3.52 cm (CI 2.52–4.36) on the left, and 3.62 cm (CI 3.65–4.48) on the right. Mean CWT was shorter in the lateral approach by 0.52 cm on the left and 0.30 cm on the right (p = 0.001). With a 5.0 cm catheter in the anterior approach, 925 out of 1186 sites (78.8%) will have adequate NT as compared to 98.2% with a 7.0 cm catheter. Similarly, in the lateral approach 1046 out of 1186 (88.2%) will have adequate NT as compared to 98.5% with a 7.0 cm catheter. Obese subjects had significantly higher mean CWT in both approaches (p = 0.001). There was moderate correlation between BMI and CWT in the anterior approach, r 2 = 0.529 as compared to the lateral approach, r 2 = 0.244.


Needle decompression using the lateral approach or a longer catheter is more likely to succeed in Asian trauma patients. A high BMI is an independent predictor of failure of NT, especially for the anterior as compared to lateral approach.


Pneumothorax Needle thoracostomy Anterior approach Lateral approach 


Author contributions

All authors have made substantial contributions to all of the following: (1) the conception and design of the study, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data, (2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content, (3) final approval of the version to be submitted. There is no writing assistance to disclose.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors Serene Si Ning Goh, Wei Ru Xu, Li Tserng Teo declare that there are no conflict of interest: no financial and personal relationships with other people or organisations that could inappropriately influence (bias) the authors work.

Research involve human participants/animals

This research do not involve human participants and/or animals.

Informed consent

Informed consent obtained from subjects.

Role of the funding source

There are no sources of funding in our study. There is no involvement of study sponsors in the study design; collection, analysis and interpretation of data; the writing of the manuscript; the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Ethical standards

The work has been approved by the appropriate ethical committees related to the institution(s) in which it was performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, Department of General SurgeryTan Tock Seng HospitalSingaporeSingapore

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