Breaking The Sternum During Heart Surgery Using A Median Sternotomy

By Adam Pick - Patient, Author & Founder

A median sternotomy is a type of surgical procedure in which a vertical inline incision is made along the sternum, after which the sternum itself is divided, or “cracked”.

Breaking the sternum provides access to the heart and lungs for surgical procedures such as heart transplants and corrective surgery for defects including heart valve repair and heart valve replacement operations.

My Sternum Incision Healing One Week After Surgery

Interestingly, the term median sternotomy is often mistakenly referred to as "open-heart surgery". Open heart surgery involves the incision of the pericadium and many median sternotomy procedures do not require this.  

In the case of heart valve surgery, however, the pericardium is pierced and the procedure is appropriately referred to as an “open-heart”. Open heart surgery typically involves the use of a cardiac pump, also known as a heart-lung machine, while the patient's heart is stopped.

Once the defective heart valve is either repaired or replaced, the heart is restarted. Like any other broken bone, the sternum requires time to heal. While each patient heals at their own rate, many cardiothoracic surgeons typically estimate that a broken sternum will heal in a six-to-nine week timeframe. Please remember, that healing is a personal process.

Infection and complications after median sternotomy?

Infection resulting from wound complications has been sited as a small issue with the median sternotomy procedure.

In a recent study of of 9,279 sternotomies performed during a period of 2½ years, 61 (0.66%) patients developed significant wound complications. Of these, 58 (95.1%) survived. Sternal infection occurred in 36 patients (0.39%). Predisposing factors included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, obesity, closed chest massage, prolonged assisted ventilation, and excessive bleeding after operation.  

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

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.

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