“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

  • Ron

    I’m 16 months out from a triple bypass and still having aches and pains in my incision area at least I hope its my incision most of the time I have no pain but at least a couple a time a day mostly in the mornings it’ll hurt sometimes enough to where I have to ask myself do I feel dizzy? do I feel weak? do I need to sit down? do I feel like I’m having a heart attack? is this all in my head? its down right scary but then I get over it the pains gone it just kind of shakes me up. I’ve been cleared to do any activity except shovel snow which I’ve done anyway(foolish) it really wore me out I’ll try and let the boys do it from now on. anyhow its nice to know I’m not alone. I see the Doc in a couple of days and see what he says about all this…Thx everyone for the posts and I wish you all a long and healthy life bye for now.

  • Bonnie Matthews

    What kind of wire is used after aortic valve replacement, and why does a magnet stick to my chest?

  • Karen Leutz

    This question is my question. I form keloids on my scars and had a large one on my sternum scar which has stretched out looking sort of like a butterfly. At the right edge I have had twinge of pain off and on and it feels like a bit of lumpy skin where the pain occures. Up to now mild…but today while stretching across my body with my right haND the twinge of pain there was considerably more severe than in the past. The end of next month marks the end of the third year since Mt aortic valve replacement surgery. I also have a pacemaker that was put in two weeks after my value replacement due to brady-cardia @35 bpm. Even though I nearly died, the Dr’s gave me zero chance…I fooled them all…but now I fear the titanium wires are poking me from the inside and I’m scared. My valve is pig valve and they say it will need replacing after 15 years. If they have to go in there and re brake the sternum to do it…dang the whole of the idea burns my brain just a bit. What do I do? Live with it like I do arthritis etc. Please, any advise? Can this cause damage or is it just a nuicence. This only started recently so I believe the bone is healed properly.

  • Karen Leutz

    Hi Kevin, im Karen, the one just above you. I didn’t have bypass but rather a valve replacement…but I have had your problem in the past and I found a solution that works for me. Sleep in a “recliner”. If you don’t already have one I suggest you get a very well made one like lazy-boy or such. The recliner does several things. It stops you from turning in your side or stomach which doing so will put undue stress on your chest by squeezeing it together too much. It also allows you to sleep on your back at different angles than a bed does and it keeps your shoulders in line and just the right amount of support so sleeping on your back doesn’t splay your chest out fully so your chest is stretched out too much like in a bed. Now I sleep most nights in a bed but with 6 or 8 pillows behind me so I don’t sleep flat AND I never turn on my side or stomach. I hope this suggestion works for you. It does for me…and I do still sleep in my recliner on occasion. I slept in to exclusively for about two years though. Be well…Karen

  • Karen Leutz

    Just a comment. Persons with titanium wires can not have MRI’s I was told by my cardiac doctor.

  • get the money

    Ihad open heart with no wires on have still. pain after 5years

  • Ross

    Kevin I’m 7 years 6 way bypass and my chest still hurts 24/7 so sick of it my surgeon says I need a ct with reconstruction and he might have to go back in..sorry can’t ever go through that trauma again.

  • Penny Piston

    I had 3 valves replaced a year ago with mechanical valves (Mitral, Tricuspid and Pulmonary). Just recently, I’m having shortness of breath, chest pains and pain in my left arm. They’re not as bad as they were before surgery, but I haven’t had anything like this for a year. Should I get checked out?

  • clay

    Saw your post and see it is 2 years old but had to respond. I am a 1 1/2 year afrer bypass and have all the same symptons u have. Have you found any relief

  • nury Balmaceda

    hello, my daughter had an open heart surgery in 2014 and she constantly complains of chest pain. just recently in the emergency room they realized she has a broken sternotomy wire. dr said its okay but my concern why is she still in slight pain?

  • Mary Lou Oaks

    I am beyond confused as to why so many people are having issues with the wires after heart surgery…the lack of care that has been described here in this forum has me dumbfounded. My father in law’s ribs were set improperly after heart surgery and they are pushing into his throat causing pain and affecting his breathing when he bends down to tie his shoes or pick something up. His Dr’s recommendation was to not bend down!!! his rib cage is slowly raising into his throat! Any suggestions?

  • gamcha

    In my case its been 11 years of continuous discomfort…I have spent a fortune consulting renowned doctors from my country…still no help or hope that this issue would be resolved

  • bennypat

    I just tried a magnet on my chest after reading your comment and it didn’t stick. They must of used stainless steel.

  • Ron Simmons

    Depends on what part of the country you are from, try one the top three hospitals in the country, Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland,Ohio Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota or Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

  • Marisa Princiotta

    I had open heart surgery in 2006 and only lately I have been having pains in the sternum when I bend over or lean against anything and sometimes when moving around in bed. Its feels like a ball in the middle of my chest, can you shed some light on this?

  • Tobz4uhuni

    Bonnie, I had my CABG X4 done on Feb 29th, 2016. I asked my surgeon and he said it was titanium wires.

  • Tobz4uhuni

    Yes they can have MRI’s done. I’ve had several over the past 8 months and as long as you carry your heart card for a Stent placement like I have ever to do, you can I had a cabg x4 on Feb 29th, 2016. Just always inform the doctors and techs and you should be good.

  • Karen

    I was told by my cardiac surgeon who actually replaced my aortic heart valve and put in the titanium y that I must NEVER have an MRI done. IF he does not know who does so pardon me if I don’t take your word for it!I

  • Larry avignone

    I have been pain free for two years, I had triple bypass four years ago. But now the pain is back 24/7, and I have a hard time breathing, and doing exercise. I have been getting steroid injections to my neck because of my arthritis and acupuncture, and steroid pack, with no relief at all. My cardiologist says if is not my heart. I just can’t live with this pain too much longer, anyone have any answers or suggestions for me? Larry in Ohio.

  • paul lirette

    hi its been 16 years since my nypass surgery i have pain where the split my chest and from one breast to the other is there aything to help thank you

  • Sandra Becker Rivera

    Hi I had aorta repair surgery in February 2016 and have had constant migraines. Has anyone else had the same issues and could it be caused by wires?

  • Jessica Jones

    I have titanium sternal wires from open heart surgery to repair an ASD. I have had several MRI’s for different things and it has never bothered me, I just inform the techs before we start them and it has always been fine.

  • Cheryl Ravitch

    I asked myself the same thing if the wires will jab my heart. I put heat pad on my chest and it eases the stabbing pain. When it’s cold or damp outside it hurts more. Weird!!

  • Michael ‘n Vicki Lee

    I know this thread is ancient, but I have a huge question. I’m 21 months out from quad bypass done in Manchester England while there on a church assignment. Had a bad heart attack and then the bypass. It was horrendous! For the past year almost every morning I’m very sick until noon or so. Finally 6 months ago I stopped all meds, (doc said to try it) as I’ve never had high ldl or high blood pressure and felt the meds were making me more sick. Took a while, but I got a little better, then fell back into this horrible mornings of being sick to my stomach and unable to do anything. My heart pumps at about 40% per the echos, and I had no idea until returning to the states I had CHF. Cardiologists have been very unhelpful, only wanted to take tests and write prescriptions.

    Any thoughts or comments would be much appreciated.


  • BarbaraBrewer

    I had bypass heart surgery in mid year of 2013. The sternum wire is covered with a thin layer of skin, and causes a lot of pain pressing against the inside of the tight skin….possibly my being very thin, 102 pounds, and wear size 0, may have something to do with the skin being so tight and thin that it presses against the wire. I want to have the wire removed so much, but am afraid that the danger of anesthesia and infection following surgery, because of high infection rates in hospitals these days, make it too risky, for just a comfort procedure. I can certainly tolerate the pain, but it is about like having the edge of a serrated knife pressing against the tender inside of the skin. I would like to hear from everyone reading this, who has had sternum wire removed, and please tell how your healing was following the removal.

    Thank you. I would appreciate if this can be followed backwards to my Facebook page, from Columbia, Tennessee, where I started to get to this page, and a private message be posted there. Barbara Brewer, Columbia, TN. I hope to hear from you. Thanks.

  • Cheryl Paul Hurd

    My husband had triple bypass in 2008 and the last year has had severe pain in his chest that would take him to the floor..it started a year ago and no one would take him seriously until this month when we went to Guthrie Sayre, Pa when a deep x-ray and ct scan showed all the sternal wires were broken and were moving around so he was given a cardio thoracic surgeon and she removed all she could get to and his pain is completely gone. Keep complaining until someone listens to you. That’s what we had to do. Good Luck everyone!

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