“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.

  • Shannon Koob

    I had the same pain for 9 months until my wires stated poking out of my chest. I had 3 removed and had to wait 1.5 years later to remove the rest ( to risky because of inflammation) The pain is better but still there 3 years later. Good luck, I have no suggestions, sorry.

  • Tina

    Shelley,
    Please don’t worry yourself too much about this. You are only just through your surgery and it can take up to 6 months for everything to settle down. you have had major surgery after all. Just make sure that you take things very easy for at least 12 weeks to allow everything to heal properly. If you can get away with not using your arms at all then you will be investing in a pain free future. Keep taking your pain killers. You will be able to start weaning yourself off them after the 12 weeks. I promise you that things will get better. I too have had open heart surgery. Most of us feel much better in time with just a few of us suffering complications. I am back at work and fitter than I was before the surgery. It’s all worth it in the end. Please don’t hesitate to ask if there is anything else that I can help with. x

  • gwen

    Just had surgery on May 25,2013 heart valve replacement,experiencing pain on right side under my breast .I was told to wear a sport bra but it made it worse, could this be from the surgery he went on my lkuo side the incision was made on the side of my breasr

  • EVA THOMA

    I had a double by-pass in September, 2012. I had little to no pain after surgery, but, I have little to no recall after the surgery for at least 3 weeks. It was just horrible for me. I had AF and my breathing was awful. I have COPD so that didn’t help. I think I would have coped better if they had given me a pill for anxiety. I just layed there praying to die, but, guess God didn’t want me yet. I think I would have been better if they had not kept me in ICU for 3 weeks. The bed was horrible and the chairs were so uncomfortable.
    I have a better quality of life now than I did before. I can use the walker instead of the scooter chair which is a blessing for my family. I know I should exercise more, but, when I do I feel the wires also. Just give it your best and try every day to do just 10 more minutes of staying out of bed, walking or any form of exercise. I just tell myself that I can handle most anything except loosing the strength in my legs…so, I keep on walking. Good luck everyone.

  • Carol

    I had Aortic valve replacement 2 years ago in November. This week was a perticulary

  • Nezzie

    Thanks for this blog. I had open heart surgery six months ago and you have
    really open my mind on what to expect from this surgery.

  • liz

    finally a blog where i can relate to. i’ve had 2 open heart surgeries when i was little and a mitral valve repair after i turned 17. its been almost 8 years now and i still have searing pain in my sternum. ive done test and doctors say everything’s fine but it still comes back when i move a certain way in bed or on the couch. i think im going to try to see if my sternum ever healed properly.

    thanks for the info

  • Arlie Rauch

    I’m glad I found this blog. I had mitral valve repair six months ago. I experience little sharp pains sometimes and soreness others. Lately there has been a little bump with some soreness near the top of my sternum. It could be a wire. But this blog has encouraged me. Generally I feel better than I did before the surgery, my breathing is good, and I have pretty good energy and enthusiasm for life if I don’t get stressed. After reading all the above, I will not be too concerned about the little pains. Oh, one other thing: I had a serious pain/ache where the rib cage meets the spine–I think they twisted it out of joint or something during the surgery. A few visits to a good chiropractor has solved that, and it feels so much better. I am enjoying lifting weights again, but am not supposed to twist; I am not up to full strength yet in lifting, but I am getting there. I also go for long brisk walks, and that is good.

  • Marvin

    Wow right up my ally I had cabg 3 in 2010 every sense I have had sternum pain now they are going to use plating to secure the sternum it is completely separated.
    Has any one had this procedure, if so how long ago and how are you doing now doing I’m very apprehensive .

    Thank you

    Marvin

  • Kandyce

    My surgery is not heart related but I had my thymus removed and they had to crack my chest like they would do with heart surgery, I have two wires and a 1×1 inch titanium plate it’s been two years since the surgery and the last 6 months my mobility has been limited my breathing hurts so I guess my question would be is it ok to remove the titanium plate my husband and have been talking and add wondering if it’s safe to do anyone have theirs removed? If so has the pain gotten better or worse

  • Rebecca

    I had mitral and aortic valve replacement due to endocarditis on May 222011.. I still suffer from pain in my sternum n I do feel like indentions but no wires n it’s only when the cold weather comes…I was 30 yrs old n I feel old…then I had back surgery n had metal rods n screws so now u have titanium valves…rods n screws..pained..

  • Rebecca

    I do have wires connecting my chest plate

  • Eva Thoma

    I am replying to Arlie Rauch. I have a little bump with some soreness near the top of my sternum also. It feels like a calcium deposit, which is not unusual. It hurts when touched, but, otherwise it is okay. I still feel weakness, but, much better than before I had the surgery. I still don’t feel safe driving very often. Once in awhile I will venture out, but, never when I have taken a pain pill.

  • Jo

    It is awesome to hear from everyone.

    Checking to see if anyone else has had these queer spasms after mitrol valve surgery for my 50th birthday. I have often contributed this to my bra altering things a bit/ lot. I also feel (scar tissue) maybe forming under my right arm. It aches, itches, twinges, pulses, hurts concerning me. My husband and son have also been cracked but do not share my problem. Their inherited problems were much worse.

    Thanks for blogging!
    It is nice to know their are others out there like me doing well also :)

  • rob

    hi .. i had a triple bypass 3 years ago ,, i was complaining to my doctor that i was so sore in pain still , 6 months , 1 year later i had a ct scan and they found out that i have a ( non union ) bone .,, but i do not understand , it is up and down ,, i come done my sternum 2 inches then it stops ,,then 1/4 inch it starts again going down ,,so my top ribs join my top sternum and my bottom 4 ribs join the bottom sternum ,, and when i move fuk does it hurt .. so when they open you up i sternum must have been in 4 peices i don,t get how that happen ,,if you could jump in my body , you would not last 20 secs you would jump out fast ..

  • Joe

    Hi,I am 3 mo out from triple bypass and I am having pain on the right side of my chest. It bothers me most when I try to lay in bed. Had all the X-rays and they say it could be skeletal. They gave me a stress test and came thru with flying colors,but this pain is there 24/7. Nothing helps with the pain. I wake up in the morn and my chest feels tight.i understand what I went thru and expect some discomfort,but this is unbearable. Could it be from the wires? The des don’t seem to be worried,but they don’t feel the pain..someone help”.”.”………..

  • Michelle C.

    Hi Joe,

    I had pain for the first two years when I tried to lay on anything but my back. I think that you will just have to find a position to sleep that works for you.

    As far as the pain 24/7, I think it will pass sooner than later. You are only 3 months post op, be patient. :-) You have a lot trauma that has happened in your chest.

    Hope that helps a bit.

    Michelle

  • Karen

    I am 71, female, and had a CABG5 in 2006. I still suffer chest pain and severe sternum and ribcage pain. The first couple of years I was told it would go away and the next couple to ignore it. Now they are talking about “tightening” the wires! I always thought I was an anomaly but now find many have this problem. I meet with the surgeon this Friday and can now ask a few pertinent questions. Thanks for the blogs. It’s good to know you are not the only one suffering.

  • Wayne Lucas

    Hi everyone I am 7 weeks out from AVR Mech and today have this soreness on both sides of my szipper about 30mm away from the centre of my chest have I overdone things or is this just muscle and bone bruising I have had some problems with AFIB blood pressure seems to be under control any thoughts? Cheers Wayne

  • Arlie Rauch

    I had a six-month checkup with the cardiologist yesterday eight months after the last checkup because of a snafu (should have been two months ago). Report was good. I asked her about the bumps that feel like wire knots near the top section of the sternum. They respond with soreness if I press on them. She thought it was nothing to be concerned about. I am aware of them if I wear a tight shirt. Other than that and a little twinge of pain or soreness once in a while–perhaps scar tissue related, I am doing well, even back to lifting weights. I exercise about 45 minutes a day, and that makes me feel good. Toward the end of January almost nine months after the surgery I realized one day that I felt good; I hadn’t felt that way for a long time, maybe a year anyway. Thankful.

  • Robert bailey

    does anyone know the “type” of wire used in closing the ribcage after surgery and who maked it, need to know if I can undergo an extensive MRI screening.

  • Arlie Rauch

    One source I checked said stainless steel. But you should check with your physician to be sure. I don’t know if that is universally true.

  • Larry

    I don’t have an answer, but I have wires after bypass, and I am having pain and trouble breathing, anyone else w this problem? I am two years out.

  • Lesa

    Hello everyone my name is lesa robinson and im 45 years of age and i had a aortic valve replacement back in 2011and i wonder about the wires myself and i thank you all for the answers cause i was wondering why im uncomfortable at times. I jus thank god im still here!

  • Wayne Lucas

    Hi all have had a couple of issues with blacking out in the last week or so I am 2 months in after Aortic Valve replacement mechincal and these events happen with not warning has anyone else experienced this. Cheers Wayne

  • Arlie Rauch

    I am ten months after mitral valve repair, and I have not had any issues like that.

  • Randy

    I had mitral valve replacement surgery about 10 months ago sometimes my incision is sensitive to the touch. Seems more prominent after I’ve done something very physical as pushing or pulling or lifting. I can touch the incision sometimes and it is almost like a shocking sensation other times nothing. It looks dark red at times but most of the time slightly darker than my skin. Was glad to read some of you alls similarities makes me feel normal.

  • Sara

    I had my first aortic valve replacement in 2002 I was 42. 2008 had to go back in had the aortic & micro valves replaced. I had a great surgeon that took excellent care of me but even now when I pick up something heavy the middle of my chest hurts which I believe is scar tissue but just the pain for a heart patient is scary because they always ask at your check ups “Are you expericing any chest pain?” I say yes but not the kind of pain they are talking about. I am a big busted lady & recovery both times were slow but worth it all. Since 2002 I have greeted my 3 grandchildren in to the world & work 40 plus hours a week at a job I have held for 35 years. I still cry every time I hear gospel singing. I don’t know if we cry because we wanted to stay with God & he sent us back or we got another chance at life. Either way I am grateful for my clicking heart!

  • Arlie Rauch

    I didn’t know if I’d wake up in Billings, MT, or in heaven after the surgery 10 months ago. But I’m glad to be here still. It allowed me to publish a book about my wife’s ruptured brain aneurysm–that was a saga. My open heart surgery was just a short chapter compared to that. I’m 66 and currently marketing the book. I’m still able to encourage others and praise God every day, even if current events are unsettling at times.

  • tammy

    Larry…I just double bypass a little over a year…my chest hurts real bad.. especially when I cough…roll over in bed…sit up. I think wires are broke or something else is wrong…hurts so bad at times I cry and get scared.

  • Larry

    Do you have trouble breathing, and do you get pain in your shoulder area?
    Larry

  • Larry

    I have been having chest pain for over one month now, went to the ER, and to my cardiologist, who said, it is nothing wrong with your heart. Today I went to my primary care physician, she gave me Flexeril, thinking it is the chest bone or the wires after open heart. I will post again, if this help me.
    Larry

  • John

    I am a year and a half out since my by-pass surgery and I too still have pain. I guess some people do and some don’t have problems. My incision is still very sensitive to touch at times. My chest mussels are still sore and numb. And sometimes the nerves twitch in my chest. I noticed that when I am tired I feel more sore in the incision area and chest mussels, but I guess this is better than the alternative.

  • eleymay

    I am 4 months post op triple bypass and the last week the discomfort in my sternum and rib cage are getting worse I can breath but it hurts to open my rib cage to take a deep breath and jars when I walk. I have contacted the hospital and they are getting me a review with the consultant which I was quite hopeful about, but after reading some of your postings I am terrified I am not prepared to spend the rest of my days in pain.

  • graham

    Hi Everyone,
    I had a bovine aortic valve replacement and an aortic root replacement in January and like everyone else have experienced, breathing, sleep, vision, chest pain and various other associated problems.
    The fact of the matter is you were meant to die but someone or (being) has deemed fit to save you.
    Anyone who continues to moan about there “lot” should remember where they would have been alive now without medical intervention.
    No stop bemoaning your lot (those of you which have been doing so) and get on with what is left of your somewhat painful and curtailed lives.
    Happy days.

  • Jerry

    This site is just what I needed. I had 3bi-pass this past March 20 and was concerned about the amount of pain I was feeling…until now. The old adage “Misery loves company” fits here. I thank you all for your posts. I’m glad I’m not alone. Be well and thanks to all.

  • Terri

    I had open heart surgery (double by-pass) 11 yrs ago. Sub-mammary procedure was done. Have done pretty good through the years with sternum pain and breast sensitivity.
    Last week I a started an exercise program with new instructor and assume I did something to cause my whole chest to hurt just like the feeling I was going through with healing from the surgery. Hurts more while sitting than standing. I’m assuming I have inflamed my nerves or scar tissue because my sternum aches, my scar across my chest is sensitive and my breast are also aching. Doesn’t feel like a heart attack but a strain to the chest area. My cardiologist wants to do an ecco stress test but I’m not sure I need that.
    What is your opinion?

  • Arlie Rauch

    Well, i’m no medical professional, and I think you need to defer to them for solid answers. I think your diagnosis is logical, however. I had mitral valve repair just over one year ago, and my surgeon has cleared me for virtually every kind of exercise. I do have some aches and pains now and then, but nothing as powerful as you describe. I guess I would want to be sure that something else isn’t going on. I think like you do that you really don’t want the stress test, but for peace of mind it may be worthwhile. Then again, it may reveal something that you should know. Just thinking out loud here. I pray you’ll do what is wise.

  • eleymay

    What do they actually do when you have a stress test? I think I might have one coming up soon, also an m.r.I.scan. my rib cage is still very uncomfortable, but after reading all the posts on here I realize I am not alone which does help thank you. I am having acupuncture in a couple of weeks time as I have arthritis in my spine and the bypass seems to have made it worse, here’s hoping it works!!!! And graham try and have a little understanding and empathy for the people that are really upset and need support, not made to feel guilty, clearly you do not require us you are very lucky

  • Bimla Krishna

    Hi, I would just like to know your peoples’ feed back in my situation. It’s already being some 6 months of my operation but yet I suffer from severe pains in my operation area. I’m pretty not sure what could be the cause, is it just by operational wounds paining or is there some sort of internal complication. I had a check up with my doctor and he has said that the wire used to tie my bones has not melted, could this be also another reason that I have severe chest pain and my doctor has also said it could be bone infection. I have taken my antibiotics from the starting. Please respond as I would like to know what could the possible cause of the pains still arising in my chest even though is 6 months already.

  • eleymay

    Hi bimla
    I still have pain in my ribs and sternum today is especially bad. I had my triple bypass December 19th. The consultant said I may have to have another operation after 1 year and they will take out the wires which may help, the wires are metal they do not melt and normally they stay in you forever but some people are unlucky and have them removed perhaps this is your problem. It is not a major op and you are normally back home the same day. Hope this helps you
    Eley

  • Dale Pfeiffer

    Hi Bimia, I had pain in my chest for almost a year (I’m 4-1/2 years post-op now). It’s hard to know, though, how much pain another person is feeling, especially when you’re reading a blog on the internet. Are there particular positions that are more painful than others? The wires may be bothering you, but internal scar tissue may also be causing you pain. The scar tissue will become softer with time, if that’s the culprit. I know it took almost a year for my chest to feel “settled.” I had seemingly random pain there off and on for a year, but I rarely have discomfort there now. I hope this helps.

  • Doris

    I am six months past aortic valve replacement surgery. Sometimes, it feels as there is burning, jabbing, itching in my chest. Often, I feel nothing. No pain. My body demands a nap daily. I gave my part-time job up, because it was determined that it was too stressful. I have completed cardiac rehabilitation, and returned to exercising at the YMCA (with certain limitations). I can take a walk, and climb stairs without being out of breath.
    Overall, I am feeling much better and so thankful to have begun the next phase of my life.
    My skin looks much brighter. My hair and nails are growing.
    I am still uncertain regarding how I should be feeling or what to expect during the rest of my recovery period.
    Reading some of the blogs, had opened my eyes to what some people go through. I hope I won’t have to deal with the kinds of things they describe.

  • ricky burns

    Ricky Burns says on 21st of July 2014

    I had 6 bypasses 2 wks ago tomorrow.I ve been really blessed
    I ve not had any pain at all. Just a little sore. I was sent home
    3 days after surgery with pain pills. I ve not had to take even
    one. I m so sorry for you that haven t done as well. I think
    if It were me I ‘d get a second opinion. The 2nd day home my
    wife and I took our grand kids to the movies and went out to eat
    I ve been going ever since. I truly hope things get better for all
    of you.

  • Arlie Rauch

    Doris,
    My mitral valve repair was about fifteen months ago. I occasionally have various kinds of discomfort. I really don’t know what is the cause, but I often attribute it to scar tissue. One concern I have is that at the top of my sternum I have some bumps. They might be wire knots–I don’t know. But one at least seems to be becoming more pronounced. If I press on the skin there, it hurts. Otherwise it just seems a little sensitive; a tight shirt will remind me that it’s there. My cardiologist is over 200 miles away, so appointments are telemedia. It probably doesn’t help that she can’t actually touch the area, but the surgeon thinks all is fine–also without seeing it in person. But on the bright side, I am cleared for all kinds of exercise, and I just increased the amount of weights I am lifting. My energy and breathing are good! Probably your symptoms will improve over time, but be sure to mention them to your physician.

  • Chris

    I had OHS a year ago to replace a stenosed bi-cuspid valve with a bovine valve. I am doing great–but my sternum does hurt sometimes if I twist, or over-exercise my upper body, and sometimes when I wake up in the morning after having slept on my stomach. After talking to a fellow patient and having read the blogs on this subject, it does sound like some of the soreness may be related to those wires that they use. Its was reassuring to read of all of the experiences of others on this website, and to know that it is not just wimpy me.
    For those who are a few months post operative–it does take time to heal from such major, traumatic surgery to your body.
    The soreness is a small price to pay for good heart health. And I am glad to know that there are surgical solutions for those whose wires have become problematic. Thank you all for sharing!

    Chris K

  • Kevin

    My name is Kevin. I’m 51. Years old. I had a quadruple bypass almost 6 years ago. I have sternum pain still to this day. They have tried everything from ganglion blocks to removing the titanium plates. I pray everyday for the pain to go away. it’s right down the middle of my sternum. It does hurt more if I lift something heavy. I haven’t slept for longer than an hour at a time. I wake up and reposition myself and try to get back to sleep. if anyone can think of anything to reduce my pain I would. greatly appreciate it. I hope you all feel better soon.

  • Larry

    Hi Kevin,
    I am two years out from triple bypass. What they found on me, is that I have severe arthritis in the neck, pressing on my nerves, shooting pains down my neck, the sternal pain can be from a mid thoracic disc, you should have an MRI to check on it since that can cause the pain. I am getting steroid injections in my neck from a pain clinic, and I also take something called GDU, which I order from Daniel Chapter One on the web.
    Hope this helps, I just recently felt my pain get better.
    Larry

  • Debbie

    My mother had bypass surgery in 2010. In 2011 she complained of pain and her incision never healed properly. In 2013 she went to a plastic surgeon who removed the wire and revised her incision. She told me that my mother would recover. To date, my mother still complains of pain and her incision looks horrible. She went yesterday back to the surgeon who said she was not able to remove all the wire and would need to perform this surgery again. I feel she needs to see another surgeon but not sure if it should be a plastic or cardiac surgeon. Any advise?

  • http://www.HeartValveSurgery.com/ Adam

    Hi Debbie,

    I can relate to issues with the sternum after cardiac surgery. While I never took the step to have the wires taken out, I’ve heard that procedure has been very helpful for patients. For me, I learned that doing some great stretching in the morning relieves a good amount of strain on my chest throughout the day. That may sound counter-intuitive but, for me, it has really worked. I hope that helps! Adam Pick

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