Tips For Safe Exercise After Open Heart Surgery

57
Share with your friends










Submit
More share buttons
Share on Pinterest

What is open heart surgery?

Open heart surgery is a procedure commonly performed for coronary artery bypass grafting surgery (for treatment of blocked arteries after a heart attack or to prevent a heart attack) and/or heart valve repair or replacement.  In the case of coronary artery disease, open heart surgery is often advised when blockages are too diffuse for angioplasty and stenting or the arteries are too difficult to access via catheterisation.

Mitral and/or aortic valve repair or replacement are also common open heart surgery procedures and may stem from a case of childhood rheumatic fever, or perhaps valve damage associated with viral or bacterial endocarditis.

heart

What Becomes of a Broken Heart?

Enter your email below to receive my HEART HEALTHY diet, exercise, and lifestyle tips for better living.  Your email is safe.  I will not spam or sell your email.

Other reasons for open heart surgery may stem from a congenital heart defect or a heart transplant.  No matter what the reason for your operation, the recovery time and subsequent exercise prescription are quite similar.

Related articles
►Tips for Safe Exercise After Angioplasty and Stent
Tips for Safe Exercise After Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
Tips for Safe Exercise After a Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)
Tips for Safe Exercise With Atrial Fibrillation (AF or A-Fib)
►Safe Exercise With an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator

Recovery Time After Open Heart Surgery

In many cases, recovery time after open heart surgery may span six to eight weeks.   Because each case is different, you should adhere to the specific guidelines provided by your surgeon or cardiologist.  While bed rest is important, it is equally important that you perform low level activity during the recovery phase.

Practical activities such as walking, even at a slow pace, are important for staving off the negative effects of both the surgery and bed rest (i.e., muscle atrophy, muscle and joint stiffness, loss of balance and coordination).

It is quite common for a physical therapist to visit you immediately after open heart surgery to get you up on your feet for short duration walks around the hospital floor.

Most open-heart surgery patients are discharged from the hospital and return home between four and six days.

Aerobic Activity Guidelines After Open Heart Surgery

Before taking up any exercise program after open heart surgery, it is advisable to discuss your plans for activity with your surgeon or cardiologist.

As mentioned above, low-level walking is advised in the immediate post-operative phase, but in order to advance to higher exercise intensities, you’d be well advised to partake in a structured cardiac rehabilitation program.  This will help you establish safe exercise intensity limits you can follow out on your own.

As a general rule, engage in aerobic exercises that work the large musculature of your lower body (i.e., your hips/legs), are rhythmic in nature, and can be performed over an extended period of time (i.e., 20+ minutes).

One of the main complaints about aerobic exercise is that it’s boring, so be sure to choose something you enjoy.  This will help improve your chances of sticking with it over the long-term!

If you feel exhausted after open heart surgery, then congratulations, you’re totally normal!  Any open heart procedure places significant stress on the body so give yourself permission to be human!

Begin with multiple (6-8) short duration exercise bouts of about 3-5 minutes each per day.  Then gradually work up to progressively longer duration bouts fewer times per day.  Aim to progress to 40-60 minutes non-stop at a comfortable pace as you advance through the recovery phase.

Sample Exercise Program After Bypass Surgery

The following is an illustration of a sample exercise plan which may serve as a rough guide (provided your surgical team agrees).  The aim is to wean yourself from shorter to longer exercise durations by minimizing how many exercise bouts you perform each day.

Recovery Week Minutes Times per Day
1 3-5 6-8
2 5-10 4-5
3 10-15 3-4
4 15-20 3
5 25-30 2
6 30-45 2
7 60 1

 

Pay attention to how you feel as you progress from week to week. If you fatigue easily and feel shortness of breath, then you may need to lower your pace, reduce the duration of each exercise bout, or perhaps reduce the number of exercise bouts per day.

Effects of Medications

Medications such as beta-blockers will reduce your heart rate response to a given exercise workload, so your pulse may not be an accurate indicator of how hard you’re working.  Heart rate aside, gradually work up to a moderate to somewhat heard pace where you’re breathing just hard enough to perform the exercise but can still carry on a conversation with an exercise buddy.  In exercise physiologist parlance, this is known as “the talk test.”

Aerobic Exercise Precautions After Open Heart Surgery

Perform a gradual 5 to 10 minute warm-up and cool down before and after each exercise session, respectively.  Obviously this is more relevant during the longer duration activities.  It will allow your body to gradually accommodate the high intensities and minimize the risk of adverse events.

  • Try to avoid over-exerting yourself immediately following open heart surgery.  Remember your heart is trying to heal itself, so any sharp rise in heart rate and blood pressure could plausibly aggravate the situation.  Stick to the KISS acronym: Keep It Slow and Steady!  If you have any questions about intensity, please discuss this with your heart surgeon or cardiologist.
  • Slowly establish your “fitness foundation.”  Walking and cycling are two common activities which most people can reasonably handle without any ill effects.  Initially stick to level surfaces, but in time you’ll be able to graduate to climbing hills.  If you find yourself short of breath and gasping for air, just ease up the pace a bit.
  • Watch out for environmental stressors such as cold, heat, or strong winds.  Any of these factors can make your exercise routine seem more difficult than usual.
  • Be vigilant of any exercise-induced signs or symptoms and report them to your doctor immediately.  For example, if you feel chest pain or discomfort, slow your pace or stop exercise altogether.  If the symptoms do not subside with cessation of exercise, or it gets worse during rest, then seek emergency medical care.

Exercising at the Gym After Open Heart Surgery

After you complete your cardiac rehabilitation, you may be cleared to participate in a self-guided exercise program at your local gym. But before you dive into it, it may be advisable to find out if the staff is qualified and equipped to work with cardiac patients.  Ask if there are any trainers with experience working with people with heart problems.  Ask if they have all the relevant emergency protocols in place (i.e., dial 911 [or 000, 111 in some countries]and perhaps an on-site automated external defibrillator (AED).

Strength Training Guidelines For Open Heart Surgery

Strength training is now recognised as an integral part of any post- open heart surgery recovery plan.  It can be safely administered in properly risk stratified cardiac patients who are stable and medically-managed.

While weight lifting might seem counter-intuitive after an open heart procedure, quite the opposite is true.  Where surgery and bed-rest can lead to muscle atrophy and wasting, resistance training is a great way to offset these negative health effects and promote healing.

It may be advisable to start off with lighter weights of not much more than 4.5 kilos (10 pounds) during the first 4 to 6 weeks of recovery or until receiving the go-ahead from your surgeon or cardiologist.

After that, progress at a slow and steady pace (ideally with guidance from an exercise physiologist or physical therapist) to minimize delayed onset muscle soreness.

Carry out your strength training regimen with proper lifting and breathing technique.  Exhale on the exertion (lifting) phase of the movement.   Or as a general rule, do not hold your breath or strain during a lift.

For an overall body workout, target all major muscle groups from largest to smallest.  For example, you can start off with large compound movements such as body weight squats or lunges, then move on to back exercises like a bent-over row or seated row, then a chest press, and finally an overhead press, biceps curl, triceps extension, and then core (abdominal) exercises.  This is a very basic generic routine, but will certainly get you moving in the right direction.

Start your resistance training routine by performing short duration sessions of approximately 15 to 20 minutes. See how your body tolerates this and then progress from there.  Be careful not to overdo it, as a marathon training session may leave you sore and potentially discourage you from continuing with your exercise program.

As mentioned above, start off with light resistance so you can focus first on form and then progress to heavier weights. Start with a weight that allows you to perform 10 to 15 repetitions.  When you can easily get to 15 without any undue fatigue, then consider increasing your weight by 3 to 5 percent (general rule). Seek specific advice from your cardiologist or surgeon for when you can bump up your weights.

You can perform weight training 2 to 3 times per week.  The days in between are to allow for recovery (i.e., your muscles grow stronger).

Strength Training Precautions For Open Heart Surgery

  • As with aerobic training, obtain physician clearance before starting any strength training program.
  • Numbness in the chest area is normal after open heart surgery. The surgery entails cutting nerves in your chest but the feeling usually returns within one year.
  • If signs or symptoms occur during resistance training, stop training immediately. If symptoms do not improve, or if they worsen during rest, seek immediate medical attention.

Take Home Message

Properly prescribed structured exercise is an important step in the recovery process after open heart surgery.  Exercise, along with rest, a healthy diet, and medications can help you progress through your recovery in the most efficient manner possible.

While the immediate post-surgery, post-discharge period can be daunting, start off slow and ease yourself towards longer durations for your aerobic activity and heavier weights in your resistance training program.

Be aware of how you’re feeling during exercise and watch out for any signs and symptoms which might indicate complications.

If your open heart surgery procedure was a result of coronary artery disease, then it is particularly important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle to minimise the chances of your arteries reoccluding (blocking up again).

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

About Author

Dr Bill Sukala is a Sydney-based clinical exercise physiologist, health writer, speaker, and media health expert. He has published health articles in major publications around the world and has given invited lectures across five continents. Click here for more information or follow Bill on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and

57 Comments

  1. Hey Doc. GREAT article and GREAT advise. I’m 61. Male. 12 weeks out from aortic valve replacement. Pig tissue. Before surgery I used an exercise bar called a BULLWORKER. Excellent isometric workout for total body especially my bad lumbar. Basic idea is to hold the pushes and pulls for 10 seconds each body part. What’s the deal on hard isometric exercises with a tissue valve? This thing has been like an old friend for many years. Hate to be unable to use it anymore. Thanx Doc. ‘Preciate your time and experience. -Bill

    • Hi Bill, Thanks for your message. Glad to hear you’re on the other side of the surgery and getting back into the swing of things. Before I answer, I should preface my comments by saying I cannot give specific advice due to legal reasons (i.e., I’m not familiar with every aspect of your health history, etc).

      In your situation, you’ve had a valve replacement instead of bypass surgery. In my experience, those who’ve had valve repair/replacement WITHOUT coronary artery disease (blockages in the blood vessels) generally tend to do quite well with getting back into their old routine and, all things considered, can be quite durable. I would suggest talking to your cardiologist and see about arranging a stress test on the treadmill. If you’re able to tolerate a reasonably high workload (high intensity), then it is likely any stress on your body imposed by the “bullworker” would be less than this. But again, only your medical management team can give you specific advice.

      The bottom line is that you just need to make sure that you’ve got the following boxes ticked:
      1) medically stable.
      2) no underlying issues such as high blood pressure, malignant arrhythmias, coronary artery disease or other issues which may be worsened with exercise.
      3) attend cardiac rehab with an exercise physiologist and cardiac nurse while on the monitors to make sure you’re responding normally.

      If you’ve got the all clear on the above, then you’re likely going to be fine with getting back into your exercise program. Hope this helps.

      Best wishes,
      Bill

  2. Hello, Thank you for all this wonderful information. I am 36. female. 8 weeks after mitral valve replacement, tissue. I have been off work for about 1 year. I lift 50lb bags on my job and I was having a problem finding out what I was able to do after surgery to get me back to lifting like that in a 8 hour shift. I finally found it and I thank you so much. My incision is not completely healed yet but getting better now that they gave me an antibiotic. I just don’t want to screw anything up in there with the wires and all, lifting weights. Thanks so much

  3. Hey Doc. Very happy to report that I’ve been back to my old workout for over a month now. Started out easy. Chest muscles were a little sore at first. Just massaged them out. Feel like I’m really back in the saddle again. BIG thanx for your advice. -Bill

  4. Dr. Sukala,

    I had a cabg performed on two arteries one month ago and am recoverying ahead of schedule. I am where I need to be in recovery at this point in time.

    I am up to 45 – 60 minutes of treadmill 5 times a week at a walking pace. I feel great and the future looks good for me.

    I am 57 year old male,slim frame, 173lbs. and have been body building for 37 years. My plan is to resume my presurgery lifestyle asap. In your opinion, what time frame do you think it may be safe to continue with bench press exercises?

    I do plan on starting light and increasing as my recovery will allow. I have been getting conflicting information regarding this issue. I have told by the Cardiologist not to train at all, or to wait up to a year before doing chest exercises again. From your experience in the gym, what is you opinion regarding chest exercised post cabg surgery?

    Sincerely,

    Robert

    • Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your comment. You’re clearly doing very well in your recovery. Your cardiovascular fitness looks like it’s coming along in leaps and bounds. However, as for your bench press you’ll need to remember that your sternum will need to heal up well and get stronger. This can take a while, perhaps a good 6 months plus. A year out and it should be reasonably strong. I can’t legally give you any specific advice as I’m not fully aware of your medical history, but I do think you should see if you can find a qualified masters degree level exercise physiologist. Then have him/her work with your cardiologist or cardiac rehab team to work you back up to the heavier weights. Bottom line: be cautious and prudent in your approach and don’t do too much too soon. Hope this helps.
      Kind regards,
      Bill

  5. Hi Doc
    greetings from India

    I am 45 yrs old. My medical history is as follows:
    Single vessel angioplasty(LAD) 2005
    Emergency CABG for stent block 2010 July
    Last Tread mill test in jan 2013- normal
    Ejection fraction 45%
    Presently on Atorvastatin,aspirin, clopidrogel, cardevilol
    Presently i do a brisk walk of 6 kilometers in an hour as the only form of exercise. I dont have any cardiac rehab in my country so i built my own program reading all the websites here.
    Now i would like to know:
    1. is this exercise good enough?
    2. my upper limb & chest muscles got wasted after the CABG and i want to get them better. Plz tell me how?

    Thanks & Best wishes
    Rakesh

    • Hi Rakesh,
      Whilst I cannot give specific medical advice on this site for legal reasons, you should be aware that walking is a very common exercise prescribed for people after having heart surgery. It is a very functional exercise, but you must be sure to pay attention to and get immediate medical attention for any signs or symptoms which may arise. As for your muscles, resistance training (weight lifting) is indicated for people who are medically stable. However, with your ejection fraction being 45%, it may be advisable to discuss this with your cardiologist to make sure there are no specific reasons for which weight lifting might be unsafe. Your best bet is to err on the side of caution and make sure you’re exercising at a moderate level. But again, do have a talk with your cardiologist to work together in creating an exercise regimen that is right for you. Kind regards, Bill

  6. Had 3xCABG 8 months ago, feel slight pain in left elbow after been on treadmill for over 5 minutes and goes away after finishing treadmill, any advice

  7. Alexander Avinante on

    Hi Doc,
    I’m a heart bypass triple surgery last year july,but now I want to go back on my routine in the gym. Am I allowed to go back again and make myself be comfortable as a body builder.

    • Hi Alexander,
      Thank you for your comment. I cannot give you specific recommendations because I am not aware of your entire medical history. Considering you had your surgery last July (likely 2013), your sternum should be pretty well healed up by now. Assuming you have been to your cardiologist and have had a full check up with high intensity stress test (on the treadmill), you might be able to get back to doing some heavy lifting again. We do know that weight lifting is acceptable for people after they’ve had bypass surgery, but again, you must be sure that you have safety clearance from your cardiologist who will be most familiar with not just your heart condition, but any other conditions which might be present. Also bear in mind that certain medications can drag you down a notch and make you feel a bit tired, such as beta blockers. Feel free to post a comment again and let me know how you got on at the doctor’s office. Good luck!

  8. I was 62 in 2011 whenI had a 5 way heart bypass surgery. Didn’t have a heart attack, just a little burning in my breast bone area. The the Dr. said I might need a couple of stints, but when I woke up after surgery I was in awe, I had wires & tubes coming out of everywhere. My Dr. only said I had to walk 30 mins. a day, that to me is a little mickey mouse. He did say 30 days after in had my open heart surgery that I could play tennis. My question is, is this enough exercise to keep my heart strong enough so my heart doesn’t get plug up again? Oh yea, one other thing my whole heart was 90 to 95% blocked. Yea, I’m lucky to be alive!

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi David, Thank you for your comment. Depending on how active you were before your heart surgery, that 30 minutes the doc recommended might not sound like much. Based on what I can gather from the context of your post, you seem to be a pretty active guy. Docs generally tend to recommend a generic program which will cover most people. Given that your surgery was around 3 years ago, you clearly would be well healed up and probably able to tolerate most activities. However, if you’ve had blockages once, then it is possible they could pop up again somewhere else in the heart. Not a guarantee, but I have seen it happen. If you were looking to do very strenuous, demanding, and longer duration exercise, then you might be well advised to have a proper stress test done to ensure that your body can handle it.

      To ensure your heart doesn’t get plugged up again, the best available evidence still suggests that you get in regular exercise (see above) and, of course, eating all the good stuff (fruits, veggies, fiber etc). There is a lot of stuff popping up on the media radar these days that says you can eat all the saturated fat you want and it won’t affect your heart, but I’m not convinced the preponderance of evidence is there yet to support this. Everyone’s looking for short-cuts to health, but in the near 25 years I’ve been in the health business, I can tell you that the advice to simply “eat less, move more, don’t smoke” is still your best medicine to keep the doctor (and his scalpel) away! Hope this helps. Let me know how you go. All the best, Bill

  9. At age 60 I had aortic valve replacement and coronary bypass surgery (4/14). I was in reasonably good shape prior to rapid onset of high blood pressure symptoms which lead to surgery on an emergency basis – discovered that I had a congenital heart defect which contributed to BP problem. Post surgery I experienced visible atrophy of chest muscles near my arms. I’ve been following a work out regimen of weight training with emphasis on chest, arms, and back. I see visible results and feel like I’ve got about 60% of my total strength back, but I am concerned that my chest muscles may never recover. I’m taking medication to maintain my blood pressure – my sense is that it keeps my heart rate down even when I exercise. Any suggestions for building back normal chest musculature?

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Russell,
      Thank you very much for your comment. I can empathise with you, as I’ve worked with many people who’ve had open heart surgery and had similar problems with their chest muscles getting back into shape. It’s one of those darn side effects of splitting you down the middle like a salmon. Nevertheless, there is hope. First, I would say that you need to be patient. If your surgery was on April 14th of this year, then you’ve still got some healing happening. Your sternum itself may take a while, anywhere from six months up to a year to strengthen up. The sternum doesn’t like saws anywhere near it unless it’s just cutting wood. Also remember that you may have some adhesions which can make you feel quite stiff. Stretching might help bring back some of your range of motion in your chest and shoulders. I think that you will find that as your sternum heals back and becomes stronger, along with your muscles, then you should be able to tolerate higher weights (with your doc’s clearance, of course) which will help you build up your muscles again. It is very much a case of being patient and letting your body run its natural course through the healing process.

      Regarding exercises, you will find that both compound and isolation exercises for your chest will help bring back some development. For example, bench press or dumbbell press are good all around compound movements and chest flyes or cable cross overs will provide a bit more isolation work. You might also find that incline dumbbell press will help work your upper pec muscles and bring about some development.

      Best wishes and please be sure to come back and leave a comment regarding your progress.
      Cheers
      Bill

  10. Hi Dr. Bill,
    I had mitral valve repair surgery on Oct 20, was released from the hospital on Oct 24. It was standard open heart surgery where they cut right down the middle of the sternum. My question is, does this cut through the pectoral muscles or connecting cartilage or something? It has been almost 3 weeks since my surgery and my pectoral muscles are still extremely weak, and seem to get strained/hurt so easily. I lifted a small laundry basket and the pain from that persists for 3 days now in my right chest. So I switched to trying to use my left arm for everything and being careful not to strain it, and the next day it was feeling strained as well. So yesterday, with both arms feeling strained/injured, I started trying to use my feet for anything i could think of to minimize use of either arm. 3 weeks seems like plenty of time to me for these to heal, I am 44 and was pretty healthy before the surgery. I know I’m not going to be doing push ups or anything for a year but my chest muscles get hurt doing things like gently pulling a towel down from the shower rod. Rarely certain movements cause a little pain in my chest bone, and I was told to expect that. But the pec muscle thing is very frustrating I don’t know what to do that would help besides minimizing the use of my arms.

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Eric,
      You are still very fresh out of your surgery. Open heart surgery is very hard on the body and requires at least a good 2-3 months before you start feeling “good” again. The sternum can take a year or so to fully heal. If you are still feeling soreness just one month post op, then this is quite normal. You should not be doing any lifting precisely for the reasons you mentioned in your comment. I would recommend speaking with your cardiac rehab team at the hospital where they did the surgery and discuss your concerns with them. They should recommend just range of motion exercises which will help keep you from stiffening up too much. I agree that it is very frustrating but I can assure you that in the next month or two, you should be feeling considerably better. Best wishes.

  11. Hi Bill, I’m in a unique situation as I was a bodybuilder prior to the op so I was weight training seriously for over 10 years. It’s been exactly six months since my surgery and I still can’t quite do heavy bench pressing, push ups, or pull ups without stressing the chest and it feels scary when I try. I haven’t lifted any weights on any bodyparts because I wanted to be 100% before going back full tilt. How much longer do you think I will have to wait to do this, and is there anything I can do to speed up the process (lifting around the chest for example)? On a side note, I am regularly doing HIIT cardio and my cardiovascular endurance is the best it’s been in a very long time.

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Luke,
      Thanks for your comment. If you’re six months post-op, then you have to remember that your sternum is still healing. You might find that it could take a good year for the bone to get its strength back. I could certainly imagine that any kind of pressing motion at this stage might be uncomfortable. Lighter weights might not be too much of an issue, but again, remember that there is still healing happening on the inside!

      Regarding speeding up the healing process, I don’t think there’s any magic bullet for this. I would, however, suggest doing mobilisation (stretching) exercises to maintain mobility around your collective shoulder girdle. This can sometimes get a bit tight/stiff with scar tissue/adhesions forming around the sternal incision site. If you’re stretching and find yourself saying “OUCH! THAT HURTS!” then (obviously) don’t do that, or at least don’t push it to the red line!

      Have you been back to your cardiologist for a proper treadmill stress test? This might be a good idea to ensure that your ticker is working properly and there are no hidden surprises lurking which might be awakened/worsened by doing heavy lifting. Just a prudent suggestion that I tend to recommend to very active/fit people like yourself.

      Also, I would recommend discussing your specific situation re: your sternum with your surgeon and/or cardiologist since the human body is not always a one-size fits all (when it comes to open heart surgery). My mantra is always the same: safety first.

      Keep me posted on how you get along. Good luck!

  12. Thanks for getting back to me. I just realized I forgot to mention two very key points.
    1) I am only 29 years old.
    2) I had an aortic root aneurysm and NOT a bypass or even a valve replacement.

    Does that change anything? I would think being younger and not having any artery clogging problems would be on my side when it comes to healing (my recent echo shows my heart is perfectly fine now).

    I also just started doing some light chest work with dumbbells and the hammer strength machine, as well as variations of lat pulldowns for my back.

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Luke,
      Thanks for the additional information. Considering you are younger and do not have any coronary artery disease, this does put you in a better situation. I say this because I’ve seen many patients after a bypass procedure end up going back in for a stent or follow up bypass for other clogged arteries. I often suggest to active people like yourself that they discuss having a stress test with their cardiologist if you’re going to be pushing higher intensities (either weight training or cardio). But if you’ve been given the all clear regarding the heart itself, then you’re probably just playing a waiting game for the sternum to get a bit stronger. I wish there was a way to speed it up, but a little bit of patience will probably be your best bet for the time being! Best wishes

    • Hi luke,i am just interested with your case,as I have ascending aortic aneurysm,4.8cm. I am scheduled for an open heart surgery with in this month. I hope I can still live a normal and active life after my surgery.

      • Hi Chelly I am 37 years old female I was born with a bicuspid aortic valve which has never caused an issue but in May it was detected that I and had an ascending aortic aneurysm of 6.2cm. I had open heart surgery 6 weeks ago to repair it and am starting to feel really really great. Hardly any pain left in my chest plate. Mainly muscular and nerve discomfort. My biggest problem is remembering that it takes time to recover completely and to no push myself too hard too soon.

        • Hi Ange, thank you very much for visiting my site and leaving a comment. It’s great to hear your feeling well and getting back into the groove. Keep up the good work!

  13. Well I have been doing HIIT cardio on the treadmill for several months now but I’ll ask about the stress test anyway. I’ll just have to be patient I guess! Thanks Dr!

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Good onya Luke. I’m sure you’ll be fine given all the factors in your favour. To be honest, I’m just like you. I’m not a very good patient when I’m injured and can’t go surfing! I’ve had two knee blowouts over the years and that kept me dry-docked for a while. It sucks, but good news is that it’s just temporary! Stay healthy amigo!

  14. Greetings

    Dr. Sukala

    In May 2014 I had OHS, and my chest hurts like…. Your comments to Russell was very helpful. I have no feeling in my breast my chest hurts so terribly bad. Where my incision is, and surrounding even inside my chest feels like a Tens Unit, sore, and is so darn painful off the rector scale. What I am experiencing with pain and pressure is 10+++

    Days after my surgery I kept telling my family that I feel metal in my chest it honestly feels hard, cold, and I can feel steel and metal rubbing or sliding. When I went for my check up I informed my surgeon, and he said you do have a plate in your chest. He was like in shock by me describing what I can feel, and this feeling has not left. My comfort level is poor their are times it feels like it is shifting. Somewhat like a door hinge that is broken and you know it needs to be repaired because every time you open the door you have to adjust the plate in order to close it. There are times it feels like its swinging, and times I ‘SCREAM’
    My movement is tight chested I do minimal exercises, and stretches. As much as I want to believe this will go away I’m convinced, and fully persuaded that this pain is not going anywhere nor the metal, and abundance of pressure, and hot at times.
    I have many allergies therefore I have to endure this pain without pain meds. Perhaps you may have some encouraging words or suggestions that I can share with my physician so I can have some type of relief. Thank You

    Lisa S — Houston, TX

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Dear Lisa,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I am not happy to hear you’re having such a hard time. This is generally not the norm, but I have seen cases in cardiac rehab where some people had a more difficult recovery than others. Considering that your surgery was back in May of 2014, I would imagine that by now (under normal circumstances) that the bulk of your discomfort would have subsided. I don’t have any magic solution to make it go away, nor do I make any representation that I’m an expert on pain science. I would suggest the following: 1) Perhaps have another talk with either your surgeon or cardiologist to discuss this in greater depth. Perhaps they’ll be able to present some options for you; and 2) if appropriate, perhaps you could get referred to a pain clinic where they might be able to work with you on some strategies for minimising your discomfort. You have to remember that pain, although you feel it in your chest, ultimately originates in certain regions of the brain. There have been cases of people who lost limbs in wars, accidents, etc and had excruciating pain in their non-existent phantom limb (the one that’s gone). So you might ask, “how the heck can you have pain in a limb that’s not even there?!” They were able to use a mirror box to trick the brain to treat the pain. Have a look at this video here—>

      Mirror Box Pain Therapy

      Point is, pain has its origins upstairs in the noggin. I’m not saying that this will be a solution for you, but if they’re worth their salt at the pain clinic, they may have some creative strategies like the mirror box to fool your brain into letting go of the pain. I’m sorry I can’t offer any specific suggestions, but I think having a consult with your docs and possible referral to a pain clinic might be a good start. No one should have to live with this kind of pain your describing, and I agree that going straight to pain medications is not necessarily the answer. Please leave another comment after your consults and let me know how you’re progressing. Warm regards, Bill

  15. Hi Dr Sukala.
    I had my open Heart operation ( AVR) done on 1st April 2014,I went through hell of a time ,while my recovery ,I am feeling better now , I have strated going to Gym ,.can you please advice me what exercise I can do..
    Thanking you
    Prakash.

  16. Hi Dr. Bill,
    I am 36 years old, last March I was diagnosed with aortic aneurysm both ascending and descending,and my doctor advised me to undergo open heart surgery. My question is can I still go back to gym after my open heart surgery? is it still possible for me to get pregnant via normal delivery?

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Chelly, I’ll respond in depth when able, but the short answer is yes. You’ll need to work with your cardiologist and team. Better the aneurysm you know than the one you don’t, especially a surgically repaired one!

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Chelly,
      Message 2 here. As I said above, any diagnosed aneurysm is better than an undiagnosed one that ruptures unexpectedly. So whilst I’m not happy to hear you have to undergo open heart surgery, I am glad to know that, at your young age, it has been diagnosed and will be properly treated. Just for clarity, I am a clinical exercise physiologist by profession (not a cardiologist), but worked in cardiac rehab for many years. I have seen a lot of abdominal aortic aneurysm patients come through and perform very well through the cardiac rehab process. In your case, I’d guess that you probably have clean coronary arteries so that is a positive. Provided your valves are in good working order, then really, all things considered, you don’t have a heart problem per se. You just have a bad pipe that needs some aggressive plumbing work to repair it. Surgery is surgery though, so if it’s for a AAA repair or bypass surgery, there will be some trauma on the body and you may feel a bit worn out and tired after the procedure. Just know that it’s quite normal to feel that way. I used to explain surgery to people by saying it’s like you had a car accident and had some trauma to the body. You have to expect you’re going to be a little sore and worn out for a while. It’s just the nature of the beast.

      Regarding exercise, I think that provided you are medically stable and cleared by your cardiologist and surgeon to resume exercise, then you should be fine. Your sternum will be a bit tender for a bit so just know that going in. You will need to avoid any heavy exertion and/or pressure on the chest until that bone starts to heal up properly and the pain goes away (i.e., there could be some nerve damage from the surgery, but talk to your docs about it).

      As for the pregnancy, my short answer is, I don’t know. Plus this would depend on your particular condition. No two people are exactly alike, so my recommendation is simply to discuss this in depth with your docs and work on getting the best outcome. I hope you find this helpful and reassuring. Leave a comment down the road after your procedure and I’ll be happy to help where I’m able. Kind regards, Bill

  17. Hi Dr.Bill,
    Thanks for your reply. I’m looking forward to a healthier me after the operation. More power to you!

  18. Hi Dr Bill,
    I had open heart surgery on 2nd Nov 2014 as a result of attack which happened at my place of work. I was stabbed in the chest which had pierced my right ventricle. This was repaired and was six months on the 2nd of May 2015 since i had the surgery. I am looking to start exercising because i have gained weight since after the surgery.

    I am wondering if it is safe for me now to start exercising.

    Your expert advise on this will be appreciated

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Peter,
      Wow, that’s an incredible story. I haven’t had that kind of comment on my blog before! I’m glad that they saved you and were able to fix your ventricle. I’m guessing that you put on weight because the post-surgery recovery process really knocked down your energy levels. If so, then congratulations, you’re normal. If you feel like a train ran over you, it kinda did. Surgery is a trauma to the body (as I explained to Chelly in a different comment) and you have to be nice to yourself and give yourself permission to be a little out of shape after something so profoundly life-altering like a knife attack and surgery.

      In answer to your question of whether or not it’s safe to exercise, I would suggest the following:
      Speak with your cardiologist and surgeon to make sure they give you the all-clear to exercise. You might request that they do a treadmill stress test on you in order to see what kinds of exercise intensities your body can withstand without any signs, symptoms, or abnormal changes in your ECG from rest to peak exercise. Provided that’s all in order, then they will probably give you the green light to get back into your exercise groove.

      Even with clearance, make sure you ease back into it and don’t try to do too much too soon. And that’s prudent advice for anyone, whether you’ve had surgery or not. If you have a cardiac rehabilitation program at your hospital, I would advise you to do it for at least a month in order for them to check out your ticker on the ECG under different exercise intensities. If after a month or so they’re not seeing anything too out of the ordinary, then with reasonable confidence you should be able to get back to living life to the fullest.

      I should also point out that since you had a trauma to the heart (stab wound) and not coronary artery disease (CAD), then this changes the landscape of things. Provided your ventricle is all healed up and your arteries are clean, then it’s highly unlikely you’re going to have a heart attack due to atherosclerotic plaque. To be honest, the cardiac patients that keep me awake at night are the ones with CAD since, even if they’ve had an angioplasty/stent or bypass surgery, there is always a chance that a treated artery can block up again or another artery could plug up and cause problems.

      Thanks for leaving a comment Peter. Best wishes to you and please feel free to leave a comment after you’ve started your exercise. Cheers, Bill

      • Hi Dr Bill,

        Thanks for replying my question. t is been 7 months since my surgery. I met with the cardiologist yesterday 8-6-15 and he gave me all clear. He told me to start exercising but i should do it slowly. 30 mins everyday and slowly build it up.

        Also the ECG done March this year came out good and the consultant was happy with my progress. He equally said i do not need Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise as my breathing is normal and my recovery is going on good

        I must say that heart surgery is the most painful thing i have ever experienced in my life. I felt like i was hit by a train but am very happy with my progress. I wish everyone out there who has going through this painful process quick and swift recovery…

  19. Hi Dr. BILL,
    I AM ALMOST 5 MONTHS POST-OP CABG for diffuse coronary artery disease (12 blockages) and 7 by pass grafts.

    QUESTION? I feel as if a section of my sternal incision, approx 2 inches long and just between my breasts, is ? FORMING ADHESIONS OR?. After sitting for a short time, say an hour watching TV, when I stand up I feel as if the inside of my chest wall is sticking to my sternum, or grabbing onto the wires? Do you know if this is a common occurrence or should I be concerned? Will this eventually fade? As my cardiologist says he is not familiar with post op sternal pain such as I am describing, is it worthwile to see my surgeon re this problem? Also, will myofa fascial massage at the incision site be helpful?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer concerns here, very much appreciated.

    Audrey

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Audrey,
      I’m sorry to hear you’re having some prolonged pain five months after surgery. In my experience, everyone responds a bit differently to the surgery. Some people come out of it fresh as a daisy and others have a difficult time where it’s the gift that keeps on giving. In your case, I think the most prudent course of action at this time is to have a talk with your surgeon. If you try massage and this helps, then all the better, but just make sure that whatever course of action you take that it’s not worsening things. Again, best bet is to have a talk with your surgeon and see if you can get a bit more information specific to your condition.
      Kind regards
      Bill

  20. Dr. Sukala,

    How to begin to restore range of motion of right arm, following less invasive robotic mitral valve repair with annuloplasty ring? Surgery was 5/26. I am up to walking one easy mile, three times a day, but my right arm is tight as a drum and still hurts to raise. I’m an avid dog walker. I have an option to begin a local hospital rehab program Tuesday. I am also a distance swimmer. Thanks for help.

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Bernie,
      Considering you’re less than one month post op, I think patience will be your best friend for a while. You sound like an active guy and, to be honest, active people that have heart surgery are often “bad patients” because they often want to get straight back to high intensity weight training, marathon training, etc. It’s often easy to do too much too soon when what you need is a bit of patience and just keeping up with some light exercise. I would encourage you to do the cardiac rehab program since they can hook you up to a telemetry monitor and see how your ticker is doing under exercise stress. If nothing that exciting (i.e., arrhythmias etc) then you can probably get back to your regular routine without too much worry. As for your range of motion, you’ll probably find that over the next several months it will start to improve naturally. Remember that surgery is a trauma to the body and it does take time to heal. In our cardiac rehab program, we’d often encourage people after open heart surgery to do light to moderate exercise for the first 6-8 weeks and then after approval from the cardiologist they can graduate to higher intensities. Bottom line: just be nice to yourself and give yourself permission to be human and heal properly. Kind regards, Bill

  21. Bernie Hall on

    No, nothing like that :-) Just swimming and walking the dog. I got a go-ahead from my surgeon today to attend my rehab orientation and will progress slowly from there. Thanks! My main question was things I can do to be able to raise my right arm full extension again.

    • Dr Bill Sukala on

      Hi Bernie,
      Good choice to enter into the cardiac rehab program. I’m sure it’ll help give you a boost of confidence to make sure everything is running smoothly with the ticker. As for your arm, I think you’ll gain mobility with it naturally as you progress through the healing process. Speak with the cardiac rehab team to get you doing movements like “wall walks” with your fingertips where you slowly walk your fingers up the wall until you feel pain (as in “ouch that hurts” kind of pain). Make a note of how far you got and then progress gradually. They might also give you some stretches which may help your mobility around the collective shoulder girdle. Again, just be patient and you’ll get there. Best wishes to you.

  22. Pingback: Must-Know Exercise Tips For Angioplasty and Stent

  23. Pingback: Weight Loss Plateau: How to Overcome It In 5 Steps

  24. Pingback: Practical Exercise Tips | Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery

  25. Dr srinivas on

    hi Dr Bill Sukala
    i underwent CABG for triple vessel blockage20 days back,i am 56,i was in gym and while running at 5.5 km treadmil i observed the stress in my chest and net day been to check the heart status.now i got discharged
    8 days back and started walking 6-10 mts and with target of 1.5-2.0 km per day
    but i am very tired and heart beat goes upto 115 from 102 normal after surgery,i use to have 60-65 pre surgery
    shall i stop the walking target and concentrate after six weeks
    pl guide the best suitabale excercise for whole body,i am 66 kg with 166cm height

    thanks and regards
    Dr srinivas

    • Hi Dr Srinivas
      I see you were very recently released from the hospital. You still have a lot of healing taking place on the inside and at the sternal incision site. At this stage, as I wrote in my article, it is important that you continue with light workloads and just try to make sure you’re not overdoing it. After 6-8 weeks, then you might consider higher intensity exercise. If you can work with a clinical exercise physiologist in your area with experience in cardiac clients then I think that would be a big help. Also talk to your cardiologist about doing a treadmill stress test on you in a month or so to ensure you do not have any rhythm abnormalities before you get into higher exercise intensities. Regarding your heart rate, it is difficult to say what’s going on there without knowing your entire medical history. Moreover, I’m legally unable to give anyone specific advice on my website. In the meantime, just be patient and keep doing your low level exercise until you’ve healed a bit more. Hope this helps. Cheers, Bill

  26. Hello Doc,
    I have underwent cabg surgery for the blockage of 2 arteries.i’m discharged from the hospital 5days back after the surgery & i’m 52.
    Now i’m felling a rod like structure in between my breast bone when i’m moving my neck around which is causing me a lot of pain.i also can’t sleep on my left hand because of the pain in the hand.It is insane for me to get up from the bed without a person’s help.I also can’t walk.More than all this i’m having cough which is causing me a severe pain in the heart.So i sincerely will be waiting for your advice.
    best wishes & regards
    venkateswar

    • Hi Venkateswar,
      Thank you for your comment. First and foremost, I would advise you to bring this to the attention of your surgeon and/or cardiologist. Though I will say, in my experience, it’s quite common to feel a bit of discomfort in the breast bone after open heart surgery. Your surgery was very recent, so it’s important to remember that you will need to give yourself some time to heal from this. You’re not going to be up and running a marathon in the next week or two, so just remember that you’ll need some down time. Please refer to my article where I mentioned that it can take a good two months before you start feeling a bit normal again, and your breast bone can take a good year for it to heal up properly. I know it’s not a fast process, but you should be ok. If you’re alarmed by this, I would strongly encourage you to speak to your surgeon. Best wishes, Bill

      • Thanks Dr bill for your advice.It’s a bit better today.But,can you tell me how to stop my cough.cough is the only thing which is making me suffer.I am also using medicines for cough,But no use.So please tell me how to stop my cough.

        • Hi Venkateswar,
          I couldn’t help you with that. You need to get that checked out by your doctor and properly diagnosed/treated. Sorry I can’t be of further help.
          Kind regards

  27. Pingback: Exercise Guidelines After a Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

  28. Pingback: Atrial Fibrillation (AF or AFib) Safe Exercise Guidelines

  29. Pingback: Exercise Tips with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator

Leave A Reply


*

error: Content is protected !!