State of the Art

Physiotherapy management of patients with trunk trauma: A state-of-the-art review

Helena van Aswegen
South African Journal of Physiotherapy | Vol 76, No 1 | a1406 | DOI: | © 2020 Helena van Aswegen | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 October 2019 | Published: 11 June 2020

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Helena van Aswegen, Department of Physiotherapy, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Background: Trauma injury remains a significant health risk for all on a global level. Patients with trunk trauma suffer blood loss, inflammation and hypoxia and are at risk of developing respiratory and musculoskeletal complications during their recovery. Physiotherapists are an integral part of the interprofessional team that manages patients who sustain trunk trauma.

Objectives: To describe the physiotherapy management of adult patients with trunk trauma, their quality of life, post-discharge rehabilitation service provision, and outcome measures used in the physiotherapy management.

Method: A non-systematic narrative review of published literature was performed.

Results: Mobilisation, functional exercises, deep breathing exercises and active coughing are used to optimise patients’ respiratory and musculoskeletal functioning. Some physiotherapists educate patients on the use of pain management strategies to reduce discomfort from rib fractures, surgical sites and intercostal drainage bottle tubing. Survivors of trunk trauma experience limitations in physical function up to two years. Little is known about post-discharge rehabilitation service provision to these patients after discharge. Few physiotherapists use outcome measures as part of their daily clinical practice.

Conclusion: Physiotherapy management of patients with blunt or penetrating trunk trauma during hospitalisation and after discharge is a field of clinical practice that is rich for high-quality research related to service provision, cost analysis and interventions used.

Clinical implications: Physiotherapy clinicians and researchers can use the findings of this review as a guide to their management of adult patients recovering from trunk trauma.


chest trauma; abdominal trauma; physiotherapy; quality of life; rehabilitation; outcome measures


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