Risk of Harm in Needle Decompression for Tension Pneumothorax

Patrick Thompson, Angelo Ciaraglia, Erin Handspiker, Christopher Bjerkvig, James Bynum, Elon Glassberg, Jennifer M. Gurney, Anthony Hudson, Donald H. Jenkins, Susannah E. Nicholson, Geir Strandenes, Maxwell A. Braverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Tension pneumothorax (TPX) is the third most common cause of preventable death in trauma. Needle decompression at the fifth intercostal space at anterior axillary line (5th ICS AAL) is recommended by Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) with an 83-mm needle catheter unit (NCU). We sought to determine the risk of cardiac injury at this site. Methods: Institutional data sets from two trauma centers were queried for 200 patients with CT chest. Inclusion criteria include body mass index of ≤30 and age 18–40 years. Measurements were taken at 2nd ICS mid clavicular line (MCL), 5th ICS AAL and distance from the skin to pericardium at 5th ICS AAL. Groups were compared using Mann-Whitney U and chi-squared tests. Results: The median age was 27 years with median BMI of 23.8 kg/m2. The cohort was 69.5% male. Mean chest wall thickness at 2nd ICS MCL was 38-mm (interquartile range (IQR) 32–45). At 5th ICS AAL, the median chest wall thickness was 30-mm (IQR 21–40) and the distance from skin to pericardium was 66-mm (IQR 54–79). Conclusion: The distance from skin to pericardium for 75% of patients falls within the length of the recommended needle catheter unit (83-mm). The current TCCC recommendation to “hub” the 83mm needle catheter unit has potential risk of cardiac injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-12
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of special operations medicine : a peer reviewed journal for SOF medical professionals
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023


  • battlefield trauma
  • needle thoracentesis
  • pneumothorax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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