How Long The Sternal Precautions Should Be Followed For Open Heart Surgery?

Standard sternal precautions are a set of precautions which the patient has to follow after undergoing an open heart surgery to facilitate recovery. These precautions are aimed at protecting the sternum or the breastbone to heal after the surgery. In a typical open heart surgery, the breastbone is surgically divided in order to view the heart and its valves to be repaired. Once the surgery is complete the divided breastbone needs to be repaired. A method of repairing involves the using of a very strong wire in order to hold the bones together while the healing goes on. The standard sternal precautions are recommended by the doctor to ensure that the wire stays in the exact place and any form of pulling is avoided during the healing procedure. These precautions also keep any kind of post-surgery infection at bay.

How Long The Sternal Precautions Should Be Followed For Open Heart Surgery?

How Long The Sternal Precautions Should Be Followed For Open Heart Surgery?

It actually depends on the healing process of the patient and it varies from one patient to another. The doctor along with the physical therapist is supposed to monitor the healing process, and they will best know that for how these precautions should be followed. In a general sense, the sternum usually heals after a period of six weeks of the open heart surgery. Once the considerable healing has occurred, the sternal precautions can be lifted. However, it is important to talk to the doctor about it. In most cases, the doctor lets the patient know when it is okay to stop following the precautions. Without the doctor’s consent, following the sternal precautions should never be stopped.

What Do The Standard Sternal Precautions Include?

The standard sternal precautions include a set of do’s and don’ts from the patient’s part in order to avoid injury to the sternum. They include-

  • The patient should keep his arms as close as possible to his sides. Limited movement of arms like using them while getting out of bed or sitting on a chair is allowed.
  • After the surgery a pillow should be held across the patient’s chest to support the site of incision and keep it away from hazards.
  • While sneezing, coughing or doing breathing exercises, the patient should keep a keep across the chest for support.
  • Arms should not be moved backwards to avoid stretching of the incision.
  • Heavy weights should not be lifted for as long as the doctor asks. The patient should not even pull or push a weight of more than 10 pounds.
  • The caregivers too should not push or pull the patient’s arms while helping him to move about. If help is at all required, support under the arms can be given or the gait belt may be held.
  • It is important to stay active after the surgery. However, it is not necessary to push oneself. Movement should be done as much as the patient feels comfortable.
  • In case the patient feels a pull in the sternum even accidentally, it should be reported to the doctor.

What To Remember While Following The Sternal Precautions?

  • The mobility after the surgery may be difficult in the beginning, but the doctor and the appointed therapist will help the patient with the sternal precautions.
  • Knowing the sternal precautions and its application is an important aspect in cardiac rehabilitation.
  • The caregivers too should understand the importance of standard sternal precautions in order to help the patient with movement.


The standard sternal precautions are a set of precautions which help with the healing process after an open heart surgery. It actually safeguards the sternum or the breastbone of the patient which is cut in an open heart surgery. Such precautions are usually followed for a minimum period of six weeks after the surgery while the healing takes place. However, following these precautions should not be stopped unless the doctor says so.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 7, 2019

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