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Rib cage mechanics after median sternotomy.
  1. T J Locke,
  2. T L Griffiths,
  3. H Mould,
  4. G J Gibson
  1. Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.


    A substantial reduction in lung volumes occurs after sternotomy, but the mechanism or mechanisms are unclear. Measurements were made of lung volumes and of chest wall motion with four pairs of magnetometers (two pairs for anteroposterior rib cage, one for lateral rib cage, and one for anteroposterior abdominal dimensions) in 16 men before and one week and three months after coronary artery grafting. Reductions in all lung volumes occurred after sternotomy and were greater in the supine than in the sitting position. Supine vital capacity was reduced one week after surgery, with almost complete recovery at three months. One week after sternotomy there was a significant reduction in tidal volume from a mean (95% confidence limits) value of 0.88 (0.76-1.00) litre to 0.61 (0.52-0.70) l, and in supine rib cage displacement from 3.87 (1.96-5.78) mm to 0.44 (-0.61-1.49) mm in the lateral plane. Respiratory frequency increased from 16 (13-19) to 21 (19-24)/min. Coordination of the rib cage was assessed by measuring the difference in timing of onset of chest wall motion and airflow in four planes. At one week nine of 14 patients showed uncoordination between airflow and rib cage motion in one or more dimensions, and this was still present in three patients at three months. No loss of the temporal relation between airflow and abdominal wall motion was detected. The results suggest that reduced and uncoordinated rib cage expansion contributes to the restrictive ventilatory defect that follows median sternotomy.

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