Diaphragmatic Injury


  1. Rare injuries
  2. Can be due to blunt or penetrating trauma


  1. 80-90% of blunt injuries from MVCs
  2. Mechanism of injury
  3. Most often seen with associated injuries

Note: Early Dx is key. If not diagnosed in first 4 hrs, often goes undetected for months or years

  1. History / symptoms
  2. Physical exam
  3. Diagnostic testing
  4. Diagnostic imaging

Differential Diagnosis

  1. Hemothorax
  2. Pneumothorax
  3. Pulmonary contusion
  4. Rupture of hollow viscus/ intestinal injury
  5. Splenic trauma
  6. Hepatic trauma
  7. Pancreatic trauma
  8. Kidney trauma
  9. Pelvic fracture
  10. Abdominal wall injury


  1. ATLS as usual
    1. ATLS primary surveyy
    2. ATLS secondary survey
  2. FAST exam to rule out intraperitoneal fluid and pericardial effusion
  3. NG/Foley
  4. BEWARE of chest tube placement
  5. If hemodynamically stable
  6. If hemodynamically unstable
  7. Emphasis on serial exams
  8. Tetanus prophylaxis
  9. Definitive management
  10. Complications


  1. Admit patient
  2. Surgical repair for definitive treatment
  Physical Exam Investigations Management
Pulmonary Contusion - Blunt trauma to chest
- Interstitial edema impairs compliance and gas exchange
- CXR: areas of opacification of lung within 6 hours of trauma - maintain adequate ventilation
- monitor with ABG, pulse oximeter and ECG
- chest physiotherapy
- positive pressure ventilation if severe
Ruptured Diaphragm - Blunt trauma to chest or abdomen (e.g. high lap belt in MVC) - CXR:  abnormality of diaphragm/lower lung fields/NG tube placement   
- CT scan and endoscopy - sometimes helpful for diagnosis
- laparotomy for diaphragm repair and because of associated intra-abdominal injuries
Esophageal Injury - Usually penetrating trauma (pain out of proportion to degree of injury) - CXR: mediastinal air (not always)
- Esophagram (Gastrograffin)      
- Flexible esophagoscopy
- Early repair (within 24 hrs.) improves outcome but all require repair
Aortic Tear    
- 90% tear at subclavian (near ligamentum arteriosum), most die at scene
- salvageable if diagnosis made rapidly
- Sudden high speed deceleration (e.g. MVC, fall, airplane crash), complaints of chest pain, dyspnea, hoarseness (frequently absent)

- Decreased femoral pulses, differential arm BP (arch tear)
- CXR, CT scan, transesophageal echo (TEE), aortography (gold standard)
- see below for CXR features
- Thoracotomy (may treat other severe injuries first)
Blunt Myocardial Injury (Rare) - Blunt trauma to chest (usually in setting of multi-system trauma and therefore difficult to diagnose)      
- Physical examination: overlying injury, i.e. fractures, chest wall contusion
- ECG: arrhythmias, ST changes
- Patients with a normal ECG and normal hemodynamics never get dysrhythmias
- O2
- Antiarrhythmic agents
- Analgesia