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Brett Sears

Sternal Precautions after Open Heart Surgery

By January 30, 2013

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If you have had open heart surgery, then you may be familiar with cardiac rehabiliation. During your acute cardiac rehab, you may have even learned about sternal precautions.

Sternal precautions help protect your breastbone as it heals after open heart surgery. They prevent the bones from separating and are thought to prevent infection in the incisional area.

Sternal precautions vary from doctor to doctor and between cardiac rehab facilities. Here are the basic precautions:

  • Do not lift anything over 5-8 pounds (a gallon of milk is 8 pounds).
  • Do not push or pull with your arms.
  • Do not reach behind your back.
  • Do not reach both arms overhead.

While sternal precautions are widely used, there is no empirical evidence that they actually prevent sternal dehiscence, which is a separation of the sternum after surgery. Still, you should follow your doctor's advice and adhere to your sternal precautions, or at least have a frank discussion with your doctor about your sternal precautions.

Following sternal precautions can make moving around difficult. Rising from and sitting in a chair may be hard to do without using your arms and hands, especially after surgery. And sometimes after surgery, weakness in your legs requires that you use an assistive device, like a walker, for a few weeks to get around.

Your physical therapist can work with you to ensure that you are able to gain full functional mobility after your surgery. He or she can also provide you with strategies to maintain you sternal precautions after your open heart surgery.

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