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

By Adam Pick on February 3, 2010

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?”

Scroll down to see over 250+ comments about this topic.

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.

joely says on February 11th, 2016 at 4:44 pm

try checking out this website
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 says on February 17th, 2016 at 3:44 pm

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 says on June 2nd, 2016 at 10:10 am

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 says on July 22nd, 2016 at 10:04 pm

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 says on August 4th, 2016 at 2:17 am

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 says on August 17th, 2016 at 7:40 am

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 says on October 16th, 2016 at 10:47 pm

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 says on March 20th, 2017 at 9:41 pm

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 says on April 7th, 2017 at 4:01 am

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 says on April 7th, 2017 at 4:02 am

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

Shelby Therber says on April 7th, 2017 at 4:11 am

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 says on April 20th, 2017 at 3:54 am

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 says on May 17th, 2017 at 2:55 am

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 says on May 24th, 2017 at 4:40 pm

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

Jus says on July 16th, 2017 at 1:19 am

Yes i too had horrendous back pain after Open Heart surgery for a multiple ASD closure in April. I am now at week 11 and although I do on occasion feel some pain in my back, it has mostly gone. I haven’t experienced any sternum popping but I do have popping/clicking in my right collar bone. I am now dealing with awful shoulder pain on my left hand side and loss of flexibility of this arm, torso and shoulder stiffness on both sides, very stiff and at time sore neck on my right hand side, numb and painful breast and chest pain (not heart, more like the muscle and nerves) which is intermittent. I am looking forward to being pain free one day in the future! I have found that as one pain disappears another comes to the fore. Anyway, staying positive, I know it is a matter of time and being proactive (with care) with my rehab. The various pains do worry me at times which is why I end up scouring the internet for other peoples experiences. Thanks for sharing, hope you are feeling better now.

Shirley Rodriguez says on October 4th, 2017 at 10:16 pm

I had triple bypass on 6/28/2017 im 40 years old my recovery has been excellent no chest pain however 2 months after surgery ive been having severe left shoulder pains especially at bed time im not able to sleep very uncomfortable will this pain ever go away?

Indigovioletfilms says on November 24th, 2017 at 8:24 am

You might have returned to work a little too soon and thus compromised your healing somewhat. It is never bad to be late to return to work, but it is always bad to be early. You might want to take an extended leave of absence to allow your healing to complete and weekly Reiki therapy until the situation is corrected and the pain goes away.

Laura says on November 29th, 2017 at 4:52 am

Hi guys, I recently had my second open heart surgery to have a valve replacement and valve repair.
I had sternum clicking which has now subsided, however 2 weeks after surgery I landed back in hospital with fluid on the lungs and had to have a drain, before surgery I used to get neck and shoulder discomfort on my left side but since my op and especially since the drain the pain in my left shoulder has been horrendous! I get spasms, which shoot through my left side, and sometimes i find it painful to take a good deep breathe. Some spasms actually take my breath away! the pain has become excruciating and I have finally booked myself in to see my GP. Im just terrified incase its something i don’t want to hear, but at the same token better safe then sorry.

Debbie Rogers says on March 1st, 2018 at 1:33 pm

I have neck pain radiating down into my shoulder. If you go to the center back of the neck and mark that spot, then go to the neck on the center left side and mark that point, my pain is in the center of those 2 marks but up past the backside of the ear. Sharp pains hit quickly and either take my breath away or makes me nauseated. Today it has gone down to my collar bone area, also. Im less than a week out of surgery

Rich McEachin Sr. says on March 5th, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Had bypass and aortic valve repacement one week ago. ONLY pain i have is now and then upper back left shoulder. Enough to take a painkiller

Susan Killian says on May 11th, 2018 at 10:20 am

I had mital valve repair with OHS on 4/11, now having severe left shoulder pain.

Brian Adrian says on October 21st, 2018 at 6:52 pm

Hi, I had an open heart pulmonary valve replacement about a week ago. When I was at the hospital, I had asked the doctors about the popping/clicking and they said it’s probably muscle tissue readjusting (not the two pieces of my sternum rubbing, which is what I was afraid of).

I’m also experiencing some shoulder pain, but it seems like a similar scapula strain that I get from sleeping on one side so often. Being that I can’t sleep on my right side (situs inversus – my heart is on the right), i’m basically sleeping on my arm in order to keep myself from falling onto my chest while sleeping. I think that’s what the shoulder pain is coming from, but I can only speculate based on past experience as I am not a doctor.

Dave Lympany says on December 31st, 2018 at 1:50 pm

I’m now nearly 5 years post op. I’m getting neck and shoulder pain and need physio.

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