“Can My Sternum Wires Cause Chest Pain Two Years After Heart Valve Surgery?” Asks Jake

I just received a very interesting question from Jake about chest pain, sternum wires and heart valve surgery.

Jake writes to me, “Dear Adam – It’s been 2 years since my aortic valve replacement operation. While my heart is doing great, I still have a very sensitive incision. There are spots along my sternum that, if I press on, cause a shot of pain. My chest also hurts if I twist in odd ways. Is it possible that the sternum wires are causing this discomfort. If so, can I get them taken out? Is that a big procedure? Thanks! Jake”

Sternum Wireds On Chest Xray
Xray of Sternum Wires After Open Heart Surgery

While I have my own thoughts on this topic, I wanted to provide Jake an expert opinion. That said, I contacted Dr. Lishan Aklog, the Chief of Cardiovascualr Surgery at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, to learn more.

So you know, Dr. Lishan Aklog has performed over 2,000 cardiac procedures of which more than 60% involved heart valve treatment. Dr. Aklog specializes in mitral valve repair with minimally invasive approaches.

Dr. Lishan Aklog
Dr. Lishan Aklog – Heart Valve Surgeon

Here is Dr. Aklog’s direct response to Jake’s questions…

Dear Jake,

Sorry to hear you are having sternal problems following your valve surgery.  The most important thing is to determine whether your sternum has, in fact, properly healed.  Some patients can have areas where the bone did not fully fuse (“non-union”) and this can lead to pain with motion.  Your surgeon can get a sense of this by carefully examining you but usually a CT scan is helpful to determine whether there are any gaps in healing.

If the bone is fully healed then the pain can simply be related to one or more of your wires.  These can be removed.  It does require surgery, usually a brief general anesthetic, but it is not a big procedure and most patients go home the same day or the next.

Rigid Fixation For Heart Surgery Incisions By Biomet
SternaLock For Sternal Closure

If the bone is not fully healed then the sternum can be reconstructed.  This is a bit more involved but not as much as the original surgery.  We use a system of titanium plates and screws called SternaLock to rigidly put the bone back together.  In fact, we use this system routinely at the time of the original surgery and have found it to decrease pain, improve healing and accelerate the patient’s return to normal activity.

I hope that helps!
Dr. Aklog

Thanks to Jake for his question and a special thanks to Dr. Lishan Aklog for sharing his clinical work with our patient and caregiver community!

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.

To learn how Adam has helped millions of people with heart valve disease, watch Adam's video, subscribe to his free newsletter, or visit his Facebook, or Twitter pages.

  • Brad L

    I was blessed to have Lishan Aklog repair my mitral valve 12 years ago, at age 42. I experienced no pain with my sternum after initial soreness. Thank you Dr. Aklog!
    Brad L

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