“Nerve Damage After Heart Surgery?” Asks Sean

By Adam Pick on October 19, 2008

I just received a concerned email from Sean about nerve damage after heart surgery. I provided some thoughts for Sean below, but I’m curious to know if you experienced this heart surgery complication. Here is Sean’s story:

Hi, Adam!

I’m recovering from aortic valve and aortic root replacement surgery. It turned out my problems were congenital – a bicuspid aortic valve and a related aneurysm of the aortic root. My faulty valve and aneurysm waited patiently until I was 60-years old to need replacement! Nice of ‘em, huh?!

I am hoping you and your readers can provide some useful information, either scientific or anecdotal. I woke up in the ICU to notice that the left side of my left hand was “asleep” – you know, how your foot might “go to sleep” if you positioned your leg improperly for too long.



The condition has not changed in the 6 weeks since my surgery. My hand is still “asleep”, and it is thus both numb and hyper-sensitive to touch. My surgeon says it is damage to the ulnar nerve caused by compression of the nerves in my chest during surgery. The surgeon says that my hand should return to normal as the nerve regenerates over a few, perhaps six, months. I’d love to believe that, but I’m worried.

I plan to see a neurologist in a few weeks if I continue to see no improvement. Have any of your readers experienced this? Did it ever return to normal? How long did it take? Thanks! — Sean, Greensboro, North Carolina


Hi Sean,

You raise a really good question about nerve damage and heart surgery. I can relate to some of it but not all of it.

When I was going through my early recovery from an aortic valve replacement operation, I too had some numbness in my hands and feet – especially at night. I later learned the numbness was an effect of the Ibuprofen I had been taking. Here’s a prior blog about that topic:

However, your condition sounds very specific. My gut is telling me that you should listen to your doctor and follow his instructions going forward. You have to remember that your body is still “figuring itself out” after the severe trauma of heart surgery. Give it some more time and then see a neurologist if you continue to have issues.

Did you experience any form of nerve damage after heart surgery. If so, would you please leave a comment for Sean detailing your situation and how/if you fixed it? Simply scroll down to share your experience or read over 300 other comments.

Keep on tickin!

Written by Adam Pick
- Patient & Website Founder

Adam Pick, Heart Valve Patient Advocate

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Adam Pick is a heart valve patient and author of The Patient's Guide To Heart Valve Surgery. In 2006, Adam founded HeartValveSurgery.com to educate and empower patients. This award-winning website has helped over 10 million people fight heart valve disease. Adam has been featured by the American Heart Association and Medical News Today.

Lisa S says on October 12th, 2016 at 6:49 pm

I had an aortic valve replacement and a CABG 5 weeks ago and I have a 2 inch area that is numb near the incision of my left breast but no numbness on the right side. Is this normal while the nerves heal?

Kathleen says on October 31st, 2016 at 8:34 am

I’m 6 weeks post op and experiencing same pain and numbness in my chest and my groin. I also feel itchy all over like my nerves are jumping especiallly my scalp. Pins and needle feelings. My chest is still very numb and painful even to have clothing on it. Same for the groin area. Still a hard lump where the incision was and a numb pain that goes to my tailbone. To top it off I get a stabbing pain in my neck where they had two access ports. Hoping all this will clear up soon so I will be able to feel the effects of my surgerys success!

Robin Tolbert says on December 10th, 2016 at 2:43 am

I had bicuspid aortic valve and slowed down my active life to the point I could not walk up slight hill. This led to aortic valve replacement and double bypass at VGH in Vancouver at 67.
Immediately after in hospital I had numbness, pain from my right shoulder to right two fingers of right hand.
It has now been 14 weeks since the op and my right side of hand is numb, in pain and hypersensitive. Right side if forearm also sore and shoulder. My hand also has very little power and right side tires easily. I am in cardio-rehab. I have tried pregablin but it is not helping.
Any suggestions as it is difficult to sleep. Right now extremely painful.

Rick Thompson says on December 23rd, 2016 at 12:44 am

Wow this is really awesome. I had a heart attack on Oct 4th 2016. I had a double bypass surgery and a third artery that did not need to be replaced. Here it is 2 days before Christmas, and thank god I’m still here. I got a bed sore which is almost healed not complete yet. I can only sit or lay on my backside for a very short time. It has also kept me from the much needed exercise that I need, but my reason for commenting is that since the attack I have had numbness in my left hand, on my backside, and also in my chest. I still find it hard to cough and sneeze and sometimes have to use my heart pillow to ease the discomfort. It makes it hard to sleep and I have talked with the cardiac surgeon and he said everything should return to normal. Knowing that other people are experiencing the same kinds of symptoms and fears helps me a lot thank you all for input and letting me know I am not alone.

Bob says on February 1st, 2017 at 8:16 pm

Hello I had a heart surgery in April 2016 I had mitral valve cleaning and I still have the pain and numbness in my groin area and pain and numbness under my right arm and chest area it wakes me up in the middle of the night and my arm sends a shock down my arm and I been out of work for almost a year and I asked them if I can get disabled and they told me that I’m of age so go and retired.

nttim says on February 8th, 2017 at 10:15 am

I had Mitral valve repair and a maze procedure done about 7 weeks ago. Now I feel a vibration that occurs off and on in the crotch area, left side only. Has anyone else experienced the same thing, I thought it was my cell phone vibrating in my pocket but it wasn’t.

Leslie says on March 1st, 2017 at 12:57 pm

My husband had his 2nd open heart surgery in August of 2011 for an aortic aneurysm. His 1st open heart surgery involved a valve replacement six years prior, which he fully recovered from. However, he has never recovered from the 2nd open heart surgery, but instead has complained from the first day of waking up from surgery of chronic nausea, bowel issues, tiredness, headaches, stomach pains and cramping, gas, and bloating. It is debilitating and he has not been able to work for over 4 years. His heart surgeon and his physician assistant dismissed his symptoms and complaints and said he would be fine and to go back to work. But he never did get better. So we went down a road to find an answer going from doctor to doctor (PCP to his cardio doctor to 3 different digestive doctors) and test to test and medicine to medicine only to not be able to find a resolution or relief for him. We feel strongly that something happened to him in surgery – nerve damage of some type – as before surgery, he never had any digestive issues. He has been on too many medicines to count that do no provide relief only to find out that we are in the same boat we were 5+ years ago. Nothing seems to work, and no one has a definitive answer. We are so frustrated, and he is not getting any better and his quality of life is diminishing. Any ideas on where or who we would turn to at this point?

Brenda Music says on March 24th, 2017 at 10:19 pm

I am 52 yr old female. I just had a L.A.D double bypass 4 days ago. They used a mammary artery for one of the grafts, the other from my thigh.
My left breast is numb from the center of the breast to my sterum incision.
This is, presently, 100% of the time it feels this way.
I do have occasional tingles (flutter) in the palms of my hands, but nothing that is long lasting there.

David says on April 29th, 2017 at 2:57 am

I had aortic valve replacement surgery Jan. 31, 2014. I have had terrible pain and discomfort on the left side of my back, neck and shoulder. After trying to find out what is wrong, I finally did yesterday. My neurologist told me My brachial plexus was damaged and I have Turner Syndrome and will never get better. I can’t hardly sleep. Even though I shouldn’t complain, I mean, if I can’t get any sleep,how am I going to recover? They don’t want to talk about that for some reason. I also suspect my vangus nerve was damaged also. I have lost the use of my left arm, not completely, but enough. I am trying to find out if they had my left arm bent back and tied down or something during the surgery. If you ask me, I think these Doctors have zero accountability and it’s not right. All I get is shoulder shrugs. Anyways, when I wake up and stretch, I feel this pull in my chest, then this pain that feels like someone is ripping my abdominal muscles out, can’t hardly breath and my face is hot and red. I get dizzy too. All I get is shoulder shrugs. God Bless everyone!

David says on April 29th, 2017 at 2:58 am

P.S. I am still in a nursing home. I am 44 now. SUCKS!!!

Sanjay says on May 4th, 2017 at 6:45 pm

I had 3 heart stents placed in 2015 with no issues whatsoever. About a year later the same surgeon placed another one. After the second placement however, the moment I got home and stepped on the floor with bare feet I could tell my left foot felt the floor was much warmer than the right foot. I thought it was something that would just go away but it has now been almost 6 months after the placement and nothing has changed. Its almost as if the sensations in my left leg (not just foot) is reversed. Stepping into a shower the cold water pricks the left leg like thousands of blunt needles. Not panful… but so annoying! Even when something brushes up against it, it feels like the leg was bruised and something brushed up against it.
I also have tingling (pins and needles?) in both arms almost every moring when I wake up, and my left hand middle finger all off a sudden has developed “trigger finger’. Just turned 50 and jeeze I’m falling apart! Anyone have anything like this after stent placement? I dont even know how better to describe it to a doctor…

Ethel L Farrell says on May 18th, 2017 at 8:09 pm

I had my open heart in 2004, Aortic Bicuspid . Titanium Valve. I have the most excrutiating pain since then. It comes and goes. Its a 10. The Drs. Put me on muscle relaxers. They figure its how I was layed on table that caused this. But It lasts anywhere from 1/2 hr. To an hour. Anyone else have this. Was told muscle spasms

jkmckin says on May 27th, 2017 at 8:35 am

I had an aneurysm repair on 3/30/2017. I now have a paralyzed right hand and horrific nerve pain. I have had two months of occupational therapy with no improvement. My husband drives me everywhere, cooks our meals and does so many things I used to do that it is incredulous. I am an avid quilter who can no longer hold a pair of scissors. I can find no place that tells me how long to expect this to continue. This has really destroyed my life.

Jim Gilliland says on May 29th, 2017 at 4:16 pm

I had an operation for heart blockage a little over a month ago. I had 4 bypasses. I woke up in recovery with my right hand swollen and numb. My left hand , lower three fingers no feeling and it extends to my elbow. My hand is so weak I can’t open my medication bottles. They tell me the feeling will come back over time. The right hand is better but no change in left hand. Additionally, I am having problems with the skin peeling off on my feet and finger tips.

Bob says on May 29th, 2017 at 4:52 pm

Hello I had a mitral valve clean up and I was last year 2016 and I’m still going through pain and lot of nerve damage, the doctor also told me that it will take awhile for my nerves to come back and I’m also over a year already from the surgery I’ve been out of work since March of last year 2016 and I still can’t lift my arm up over my head and it’s been well over a year and nothing is the same I feel like a cripple and my soul call significant other Catholic blankets that person thought I was lying about the pain and everything else
I’m only getting like a two to three and a half hours of sleep a night ever since I got home from the surgery sometimes I wake up in tears as of today I’m still in pain still waking up in the middle night and two the points I can’t take the pain no more

WallyGibby says on June 27th, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Hi Adam,
Yes, Yes, Yes.
I am 9 weeks post Aortic valve replacement and CABG 3X…..my nerve pain is directly under my sternum (not sternum pain), and to the left.
Sitting upright, bending over to pick something up of the floor or a low place results in a burning paid that’d curl your toes.
I have an outstanding surgeon, Dr. Craig, here in Memphis, but I’m told by his nurse there’s nothing they can give me for that abdominal muscle pain due to the cut nerves etc.
Said it’s about a year before it gets better.

Bob says on June 27th, 2017 at 1:10 pm

It’s Bob again. Last week I had a mild stroke and today I had a stroke but not as bad I was just wondering if the wire in my chest had anything to do with it I asked the doctor and he said maybe maybe not he’s not sure if it was

Bryan Bohay says on July 10th, 2017 at 2:19 pm

I have had three mitral valve surgeries at the university of Ottawa heart institute the first 2000 was due to staph infection and was only diagnosed after an embolic stroke to the occipital lobe causing some vision loss in one area of my field of vision (middle right quadrant). The second 2002 was one year later same bacteria probably from the same source at work.The third 2014 was the result of a strep. infection following hernia surgery at another hospital in Ottawa.Since that third surgery my left hand middle finger has had a numb asleep feeling ,not enough to hamper it from being useful just something one can feel when at rest.Not something one would bring up to medical people as it doesn’t actually impair it’s use .During this surgery my iliac crest was damaged and needed to be replaced by a vascular surgeon ,causing an extended stay in the operating theater, 36 hours I’m told.

Andy McLoughlin says on August 5th, 2017 at 9:54 pm

I had double bypass surgery on July 5th I have the same problem with my hand and my ring finger and pinky. I asked the Dr about it and he said it would go away in time. I first thought that it was from the v they had in that hand and the monitor they had on my finger

Rolf Gockert says on August 10th, 2017 at 5:08 am

Had a quadruple bypass last year, now my right foot falls asleep on long drives, and my right hand also sometimes. Told my doctor about it . He said its normal after such a operation. I m not sure. Also have back problems. What should I do ?

Deborah Travis Hobson says on August 22nd, 2017 at 2:28 pm

July 12th Ross Procedure, Mt. Sinai NYC. I no longer have use of my left hand and have excruciating nerve pain. My quality of life is ruined. No idea if damage is permanent. too soon to tell. This is absoulte hell.

Jim Gilliland says on September 11th, 2017 at 8:15 pm

I also had loss of feeling in the two lower fingers on my left hand. Every one said the feeling would return but it was actually getting worse. No one could offer anything but wait and see. I had a nerve conduction test done that showed the nerve was starting to deteriorate. I went on you tube and found some exercises a Dr. recommended to restore the feeling and after doing the procedure for three weeks the feeling started to return. I am now about 5 weeks after starting the exercises and the feeling & strength has returned. I told my heart Dr. about it and he is going to start recommending the exercises to others that have the same problem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d85QKyWvrbI

Mike says on October 19th, 2017 at 9:08 am

I had the exact same surgery (aortic valve and aortic root replacement) and have been officially diagnosed with carpal tunnel by a neurologist yesterday. It’s 3 months post surgery, I have had it since I came out of the surgery, never had it before. Surgeon said it might go away after a couple of months, neurologist wants to operate. It’s more prevalent in my right hand, but it is both. I am inclined to wait a few more months to see if it might clear up, but so far it has not changed.

Dean Elliott says on November 23rd, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Hi Adam I have had multiple heart surgery.At the age of 12 days I had my first open heart surgery a cooctation of the aorta. I was diagnosed with a narrowing of the aorta as well as wolf Parkinson White syndrome and Epstein’s abnomily At the age of 14 years old I had my second open heart surgery which was a repeat of the first heart operation . This was done by prof Kingsley by the the way the first one was done by Prof Chris Barnard in Cape Town . In 1987 at the age of 21 I had to travel to the USA to Rochester min the Mayo Clinic for my 3rd open heart . This time it was for the wp w syndrome and the Epstein’s . I had 13 cardio versions in 10 months prior to this surgery. Super ventricular tachycardias which I managed to live with my whole life until 1987 when the became to intense . The surgery could not be done in South Africa due to the fact that we did not have the technology The Surgen was a Prof Gordon Danialson and his team ,they were amazing. I returned home and had no prodlems until 2002 . Between 2002 and 2005 I had 39 tachycardias and 4 cardiac ablations al done by the amazing Prof Obel at the Milpark hospital in Johannesburg S A . My problems returned in 2013 with a massive heart attack and I was back on the medication this . This time the ventricular tachycardia had migrated into arterial fribulstion and I was put Warfarin for the first time. My Genius Prof Obel sent me for chest exrays last year to see if I was developing lung problems due to the Arycor that I have been on for 5 years now. He discovered that I had an aortic aneurysms on the curve of the aorta that was about 4.5 cm . We waited until March this year for surgery . I had graph inserted through the right side of my grion this graph blocked my left coraded artery and I had to have subclavian coraded arterial bypass as well. It is now7 months since the procedure and I started experiencing tingling in my right hand index finger . I will be seeing my doctor to discuss this with him . I am now 51 and in great health and would like say to anyone who experiences heart surgery that your recovery depends to a large degree on you attitude,don’t think you are disabled because you are not. My name is Dean Elliott and I live in Johannesburg South Africa

Jeffrey Elliott says on January 8th, 2018 at 12:19 am

I am nearly 4 weeks out of a quintuple bypass and I cannot feel the right side of my chest. I am point that with time the sensation returns so that I can feel normal again.

Rupinder Bajwa says on February 22nd, 2018 at 11:56 am

My brother in law had open bypass surgery one year back but he still complains about numbness in hands especially left hand. He has been to many neurologists but all of them said it will take time. I wonder if it will go at all.

ladyluck says on March 5th, 2018 at 1:24 pm

I had an aorta replacement just about 2 years ago. Now I have had a few episodes of total numbness in my right leg. It is after either driving a long while, 1hour, or sitting also. Hopefully it is just my age,74yr. but I had no problems like this for the past almost 2 years. Is this normal?

Sylvia Moya says on April 18th, 2018 at 6:56 pm

My mother has a similar experience. She had a heart valve replacement this past feb. had to lay still for 12 hrs. instead of the normal six. Came to be when she finally got out of bed she had dropped foot. She did tell me during the 12 hrs. Her leg was numb. She went through 2 1/2 weeks of therapy, continued therapy with home visits, she can walk with assistance of a cane. Her legs constantly hurt. Drs. are no help all they say is it should go away in a few months.

tif57t . says on October 18th, 2018 at 6:44 pm

I had aortic valve replacement July 2016 and am (I’d say) still in recovery. Since the surgeon filets you like a fish your spine and neck and ribs take a beating. I spent 10 months in severe severe (number 10+++ on pain chart), with numbness in both hands and a teres major muscle spasm that was off the charts painful. Could not lie down on a bed to sleep in any way as when I did the nerve pain was excruciatingly painful (like a heart attack but wasn’t a heart attack). Tried everything I could to relieve what I learned was nerve pain caused by spine vertebrae and ribs misaligned as well as (left back side) teres major muscle swelling and weakness. Also experienced numbness in both hands and severe headaches. Went to a Chiropractor who practices the GONSTEAD method of adjustment. Turns out upon seeing this doctor on first visit that I had he told me that I had so much inflammation in the back muscles and my whole back was red (with inflammation) and that it would take some time to correct everything that open heart surgery corrects. The surgeons know how to replace a valve with accuracy but none of the doctors you might go to see know how to fix the results of this type of surgery. I visited the Gonstead Chiropractor twice a week every week for 4 months straight and after that period of time I could stand with correct posture and alignment and was not experiencing the nerve pain I had previously with the exception of the teres major muscle which still swells in the evening and presses on nerves which radiate to the left front. I am now doing exercises to strengthen this muscle (which helps your arm move forward and upward and to hold somewhat heavy items). It is getting better but it is now solely up to me to strengthen this muscle (by the way baseball players and tennis players suffer from straining of the teres major muscle). Along the way I did find a homeopathic medicine I could take (Hyland’s Cell Salt #6 which helps with nerve pain) and the pain would and still does disappear within 60 seconds. I am very aware of when the nerve pain starts so then I immediately take the cell salt and the pain disappears almost immediately (Horray!). Don’t see the Gonstead Chiropractor anymore unless I really need him to adjust something, but he recommended an exercise for the muscle in question since he’d fixed everything else. Sorry this is so long but sometimes the whole story helps others determine if they’re experiencing the same issues as I have/had. I can now sleep at least 6 hrs lying on a bed (with at least 1-2 hrs more sitting up in bed sleeping with a neck brace on so I don’t do something stupid to my neck sleeping this way. Hope this helps someone. The Allopathic doctors do not know how to help you and MRI’s and CAT Scans will not show the spinal misalignment that causes many of these problems and time will not cure the spine but a very good Chiropractor can. I live in a smallish town in central Texas and am very glad I found this Chiropractor using the Gonstead method. There’s info on the internet about the Gonstead method and videos on YouTube as well so you can learn. I thought, what’ve I got to lose, I was super duper miserable and just wanted to die.

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