Histologic and radiological analysis on bone fractures: Estimation of posttraumatic survival time in skeletal trauma

Annalisa Cappella, Hans H. de Boer, Paolo Cammilli, Danilo De Angelis, Carmelo Messina, Luca Maria Sconfienza, Francesco Sardanelli, Chiarella Sforza, Cristina Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In antemortem fractures, the estimation of the amount of time that has lapsed between the traumatic event and eventual death (the socalled ‘posttraumatic survival time’ or PTST) can have substantial implications in legal proceedings. It might for instance help to corroborate witness testimonies, to reconstruct the chain of events leading to eventual death or to establish a sequence when multiple traumata in a single individual are encountered. However, PTST estimation of bone trauma is impeded by a myriad of theoretical and practical issues, and is therefore almost invariably considered challenging. A few years ago, a method that combines radiological and histological analysis of fractures to estimate the minimum amount of lapsed PTST in skeletonized remains was proposed. This study aims to test its accuracy on a set of five rib fractures and four skull lesions fractures with known and varying amounts of posttraumatic survival time. In addition, it explores the differences between the assessment on ribs and skull bones and it expands on the proposed method by including computed tomography (CT) scanning. Using conventional radiology and histology, the minimum amount of PTST was accurately estimated in 8 out of 9 of the cases (89%). The one discrepancy between the estimated and known PTST was minimal, being just one day. The precision of the method diminishes as healing advances. It was noted that skull lesions showed less advanced and less well-developed healing features than the lapsed PTST would suggest. Of the three used modalities, conventional radiology proved to be the least accurate. CT scanning proved to be a valuable, sometimes even superior alternative to conventional radiology. Histology was superior to both conventional radiology and CT scanning. The results of our study illustrate the potential of the combined application of radiology and histology to estimate the PSTS in skeletonized human fractures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109909
JournalForensic Science International
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Bone healing
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Fractures
  • Histology
  • Radiology
  • Skeletal trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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