“Did Your Sternum and Shoulder Click after Heart Surgery?” Asks Dale

I just received a great email from Dale about sternum and shoulder clicking after open heart surgery.

Dale writes, “Hi Adam – I had my surgery on November 2, 2009. The surgeon replaced my bicuspid aortic valve (with a bovine tissue valve), the root aorta, and grafted a large piece of my ascending aorta. I have a question… I have some very occasional clicking in my sternum. However, I also have clicking in my right shoulder. It has become more intense, frequent and uncomfortable. Is this normal? Thank you for both the book and this blog! Dale Pfeiffer”

This email from Dale brought back some distinct memories from my early recovery.

Like Dale, I did experience sternum clicks from time-to-time as my sternum healed. In fact, one night I had Robyn (my wife) listen to my chest – as it clicked – to confirm that I wasn’t going crazy. To ensure the “clicking” was not problematic, I discussed this noise with Dr. Starnes, my surgeon, who calmed my fears with two words, “That’s normal.”

Unlike Dale… I did not experience any clicking or pain in my shoulder. However, after I started cardiac rehab, I did meet several patients, including Ted, that often complained of shoulder pain.

What is very interesting about the timing of Dale’s email, is that two other emails in my inbox – from Brian J. and Craig R. – are also asking about the exact same issue… shoulder pain.

That said, I did some quick research. It appears that shoulder pain, like chest pain, is normal for patients. According to the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, “Some heart valve replacement surgery patients experience pain in their chest and shoulder areas and become alarmed thinking it may be angina. This pain is usually due to muscle and bone aches.”

Still, I am curious to know how many, if any, of our patient readers can relate to Dale’s, Brian’s and Craig’s shoulder pain. So, my questions to you are, “Did you experience sternum clicking? Did you experience shoulder clicking? What about shoulder pain?”

To leave a comment, please click here. In advance, thanks for your help in our discussion of this topic!

Scroll down to see over 190 comments about this topic.

Keep on tickin!

Adam Pick
Written by Adam Pick

Adam Pick is a patient, author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery and the founder of HeartValveSurgery.com.

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  • try checking out this website
    https://rehabilitateyourheart.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/managing-the-open-heart-surgery-scar/
    my husband is a year out of the same surgery and still has chest popping noises and feels tight
    We started doing the myofacial release about 1 month ago and it has made a big difference. It can make you feel sore afterward but it is something everyone who has open heart should be taught about
    Finding a a physical therapist who does myofacial release is also helpful as they can work on the larger area and get better results.

  • Veronda

    Wanda, thank you so much for your story; while my surgery was different I had a single bypass surgery, this past December 20th, I am 49, and wimp about pain, while I am recovering nicely and have been in cardiac rehab for over a month, I do feel better. However, I just started having a pain on the top of my shoulder, when I take deep breaths, I am scheduled for a visit with my surgeon, who is suppose to release me Bach to work, like yourself, I am a registered nurse also, but I work from home, with an insurance company, where I see clients in the field and strictly do education and preventing re-hospitalization. I just wanted to share, I feel your pain as a nurse.

  • susan

    I am 45 y female 3 weeks post surgery and have intense right shoulder pain but no clicking anywhere. Pain jsut started this week

  • MBBEEE

    I had shoulder problems, (both had three surgeries), for impingement. I had quad bypass on 04/23/14 and while I was hospitalized my chest did not click-pop, however after I got home about two weeks or so my chest began to pop ever so often. Now it pops and click like a Bic Click pen, especially when laying down. Reach for a drink pop pop pop! It does this so loudly my wife notices!
    I spoke with my Doctor about my concern and was told, this was normal. However my mom and brother also under went quad bypass did not have clicking or popping, however they under went another surgery to reset the wires that held their breast bone together, then the popping began. They too did not have shoulder pain, my mother did have pain in her jaw occasionally.

  • Michael Brown

    I had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve and to repair an aortic aneurysm on 6/17/16. I still have the chest popping every time I take a deep breath or yawn. I also had very severe left shoulder pain with bad muscle spasms a little over two weeks after surgery…right after I came home. Luckily it only lasted a few days and it hasn’t acted up since then.

  • Ant Corke

    I had a Bentall Proceedure three years ago, and from time to time still suffer from terrible shoulder pain. The pain comes on slowly, and spreads up my neck and down my arm. Usually on my right side, but sometimes on my left. The pain reaches a very intence peak before subsiding, over a time span of around five minutes. At its peak, the pain is an intense burning sensation, which I assume must be some kind of cramp.

  • Brenda

    My name is Brenda I am 32. I had OHS to replace my aortic valve on September 16 2016. my left shoulder hurt for about two weeks the pain got so bad I had to go to the ER. They told me they was sending me for emergency surgery. Fluid had built up between the heart wall and the heart sac. I had 800 ml of fluid in there and that was causing all the pain. My advice is get is checked out.

  • Daniel Blazowich

    i had arortic valve replaced 7 months ago i started hearing and feeling clicking and noises in my chest and my stranth level is half what it use to be im going to have a cat scan done. i think my stearum never fused together wonder about a law suit?

  • Shelby Therber

    Yes I too have had and still do experience extreme shoulder pain where I feel like my arms are going to fall off. This pain goes into my neck and upper part of my back. I had my surgery on January 6, 2017. It’s April and still feel shoulder, neck and back pain and clicking and popping in chest. It’s also common to feel lower back pain and tender breast that feel like they are on fire. This however is my second open heart surgery. My question is, how long does the clicking in the chest bone last?

  • Shelby Therber

    Yes Sandra all of those things are normal and wil last up to a year. But the pain will come periodically

  • Shelby Therber

    That’s scary!! I’ve had 2 open hearts and my first one I didn’t experience too much clicking after the first month. But my second one is a different story. I’m 4 months out and I’m still experience it in almost everything I do. They done one CT scan 4 weeks after my surgery because I was complaining about it and said everything was fine and I’m just worrying to much. But I’m still feeling it and the pain is getting worse.

  • snowtrails

    I just had a bicuspid aortic valve and aortic anyurism repaired on 4-13-17,. while I do have some sternum popping, I am amazed at the lack of pain in my chest..however, at night while sleeping, the pain in my shoulder blades is severe. I attributed it to the 2 days in bed at the hospital, as I am a very active person normally, but it was enough of an irregularity for me to wake up in pain at 4AM and look this up. I only hope its a temporary thing and will ease away over the next week or so.

  • Robert

    Hi my name’s Robert, I’m 36 years old and had an aortic valve sparing procedure performed 5 weeks ago. I woke up with terrible right shoulder and neck pain after my surgery that was popping near my spine with any little movement of my arms for the first two weeks. It hasn’t improved much, unfortunately, maybe about 20%, and the popping sound has stopped. My sternum pain has gone away almost completely and doesn’t bother me at all in comparison. The cardiac nurse I spoke with told me that it comes from the positions we’re put in during the operation, but I was just at the surgeon’s office today and was told by a doctor that shoulder pain is common because of where the anesthesia settles in the body, which I’d never heard before though I’d read the nurse’s explanation on many websites. She said that it almost always goes away, but at the same time I’m not going to see the surgery team again and have been told to see my regular cardiologist. I can’t help but think that the act of the surgery itself stresses the surrounding areas, since I’ve also read about people waking up with rib pain too, and the first surgeon I went to wouldn’t perform the surgery on me for various reasons with one of them being too much compression in my spine, but that’s just a guess on my part. I had some lower back pain before the surgery but this new upper back pain is so much worse than anything I’ve ever felt that it’s like the lower back pain is non-existent now in comparison. It’s only been five weeks so I’m hoping the pain goes away, but at the moment there’s been very little improvement. It’s not a pain that I think I can tolerate, honestly, that I’d need to see another specialist to fix it if it doesn’t get better on its own. Has anyone needed to see another specialist or had another surgery to fix shoulder pain like this? I’m convinced my spine got jarred somehow and a nerve got pinched or a joint got out of wack.

  • Christie Carr

    I had quadruple bypass 4/13/17 , I am.now experiencing popping everytime I move my right arm also at times it feels as if something is cutting into the inside of my right breast

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