History of the Innovation of Damage Control for Management of Trauma Patients: 1902–2016

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To review the history of the innovation of damage control (DC) for management of trauma patients.


DC is an important development in trauma care that provides a valuable case study in surgical innovation.


We searched bibliographic databases (1950–2015), conference abstracts (2009–2013), Web sites, textbooks, and bibliographies for articles relating to trauma DC. The innovation of DC was then classified according to the Innovation, Development, Exploration, Assessment, and Long-term study model of surgical innovation.


The “innovation” of DC originated from the use of therapeutic liver packing, a practice that had previously been abandoned after World War II because of adverse events. It then “developed” into abbreviated laparotomy using “rapid conservative operative techniques.” Subsequent “exploration” resulted in the application of DC to increasingly complex abdominal injuries and thoracic, peripheral vascular, and orthopedic injuries. Increasing use of DC laparotomy was followed by growing reports of postinjury abdominal compartment syndrome and prophylactic use of the open abdomen to prevent intra-abdominal hypertension after DC laparotomy. By the year 2000, DC surgery had been widely adopted and was recommended for use in surgical journals, textbooks, and teaching courses (“assessment” stage of innovation). “Long-term study” of DC is raising questions about whether the procedure should be used more selectively in the context of improving resuscitation practices.


The history of the innovation of DC illustrates how a previously abandoned surgical technique was adapted and readopted in response to an increased understanding of trauma patient physiology and changing injury patterns and trauma resuscitation practices.

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