Podcast 541: Needle Thoracostomy - The Emergency Medical Minute

Podcast 541: Needle Thoracostomy

Author: Aaron Lessen, MD

Educational Pearls:

  • Traditional technique of needle thoracostomy for tension penumothorax is along the 2nd intercostal space at the midclavicular line
  • Inserting a large angiocatheter along the 4th or 5th intercostal space at the mid-axillary line may provide a thinner area that is more easily identified, overcoming many of the obstacles of the traditional approach
  • The 10th Edition of ATLS now recommends this location as well
  • A finger thoracostomy, where a scalpel and then the finger are used to penetrate the pleural cavity at the same location, is another method to provide quick decompression of a traumatic tension pneumothorax, allowing a tube thoracostomy to be performed later


Laan DV, Vu TD, Thiels CA, et al. Chest wall thickness and decompression failure: A systematic review and meta-analysis comparing anatomic locations in needle thoracostomy. Injury. 2016;47(4):797–804. doi:10.1016/j.injury.2015.11.045

Inaba K, Branco BC, Eckstein M, Shatz DV, Martin MJ, Green DJ, Noguchi TT, Demetriades D.   Optimal positioning for emergent needle thoracostomy: a cadaver-based study. J Trauma. 2011 Nov;71(5):1099-103; discussion 1103. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e31822d9618.

Summarized and edited by Erik Verzemnieks, MD

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