The Different Types of Chest Trauma and Injuries

Chest trauma can be penetrating or blunt. If the injury pokes through the skin (stabbing, gunshot wound, an arrow through the heart, etc.) we call it penetrating chest trauma. If a sharp object tearing deep into skin and muscle isn't the main cause of tissue damage, consider it blunt chest trauma. Some blunt forces can still break the skin, getting kicked by a horse comes to mind, but tearing the skin is not considered penetrating trauma.

Car accidents and falls cause the most frequent blunt chest traumas. Gunshot wounds cause the most penetrating trauma.


Broken Ribs

Thoracic spine and rib cage in 2 views.
Science Picture Co./Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Few things in this world hurt as much as broken ribs. Ribs provide the entire structure of the chest wall. Without ribs, we wouldn't be able to breathe. When ribs break, it results in pain and difficulty breathing.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot you can do for broken ribs. Traditionally, the injury was wrapped with a bandage. The pressure is thought to help with the pain.


Flail Chest

A flail chest is broken ribs with an attitude. When something hits you hard enough to break off a section of ribs and leave them dangling only by the surrounding meat, you've got a section of spareribs flailing back and forth opposite of the rest of the ribcage. It hurts as bad as it sounds, as well as being potentially deadly.


Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung)

The term collapsed lung isn't totally correct. It's not as if you can poke a hole in a lung and let all the air out like a balloon. Instead, air trapped in the chest pushes the lung flat. Enough air will not only push the lung flat, but it will push it over, against the heart and the other lung.


Sucking Chest Wound

A sucking chest wound can lead to a collapsed lung (see above). It also makes creepy little bubbles in the hole.

In the obvious cases, you can hear the air sucking in. In more subtle cases, you just have to assume. It's a good idea to treat every hole in the chest as if it is a sucking chest wound.


Gunshot Wound

Drop a rock in a pond and it makes a splash. Shoot a bullet into the body and it makes a splash, too. The difference is that after a few minutes, the pond will look the same, but the body stays messed up. Gunshot wounds really do have a mind of their own.


Shortness of Breath

There are three really important organs in the chest: one heart and two lungs.

That means gnarly chest trauma has better than a 65% chance of interfering with breathing or blood pressure. Internal injuries in the chest can interrupt blood flow, airflow or both.

There are types of trauma that aren't covered here, but the most important thing is to make sure your patient has a pulse and can breathe.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Rochester Medical Center. Flail chest. Health Encyclopedia.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Collapsed lung (pneumothorax).

  3. Parker S. Kill or Cure: An Illustrated History of Medicine. New York, NY: DK Publishing; 2013.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.