Sternal Precautions: Stay Safe After Heart Surgery

Posted by Heart Hugger on Oct 8, 2019 11:27:30 AM


Sternal precautions are a considerable part of the recovery and healing process after heart surgery. However, many patients have a lot of questions about sternal precautions--and that's great. To help patients take an active role in their healing and understand what they need to do, we're explaining exactly what sternal precautions are, why they're essential, and how you can stick with them.

Safety First

There are a lot of options for staying safe and comfortable after heart surgery, from plenty of rest to sternal support devices. However, without sternal precautions, none of those other options would be nearly as effective. Here's everything you need to know about sternal precautions--and how to make it a habit to follow them.

Why are sternal precautions important?

Sternal precautions are guidelines from doctors that help protect your body after surgery. If you stretch your breastbone too much or overexert yourself, the bone can begin to separate--which can lead to infection and other complications. Because of this, it's best to follow sternal precautions to the letter.

What do sternal precautions look like?

Some examples of sternal precautions are:

  • not lifting more than five pounds,
  • not reaching to your back,
  • not reaching out to your sides,
  • not reaching straight up,
  • and not pushing or pulling.

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How can sternal precautions become a habit?

At first, it can be challenging to remember not to do things you've always done--so it's crucial to make sternal precautions a habit. One tip is to work with a physical therapist who will teach you new, more comfortable ways to move, like how to sit down on a bed, walk up the stairs, and doing your daily routine (like brushing your teeth).

3 Precautions You Definitely Want to Take

1. Avoid Lifting Heavy Weights

It can be difficult to adjust to limited exercises, but it will help speed up recovery. If you are used to performing arm exercises, do not lift anything heavier than ten pounds. You should only raise one-half or one-pound weights for the first eight weeks of your recovery to improve sternum stabilization. Ten bicep curls on each side is a gentle start. Make sure to have a pillow or some form of security harness to protect your sternum.

2. Stay Mobile

While you should limit your activities, you should not stop them altogether. Walking is an excellent exercise that allows you to recover and ensures sternum stabilization. Short, ten-minute walks are just as effective as more extended strolls and help to prevent stiffness. Before and after walking, take time to stretch your arms to promote flexibility and strength. Sit in a chair that allows your arms to hang by your sides with your fingers towards the floor. In a controlled motion, lift one arm up to shoulder level, hold, then slowly release back down. Repeat on both sides ten times with deep breaths in between.

3. Modify Stretching Routines

Stretching is a low-impact activity that does not disrupt sternum stabilization when done correctly. One precaution to take after surgery is never to lift a single arm above your head. You must always lift both arms up at the same time. Raising only one arm can put pressure on your chest and damage the wires holding your sternum together. The best way to stretch is to sit in a chair and lift both arms above your head to extend your arm and core.

Want to learn more about sternal precautions? Curious about Heart Hugger? Please contact us today for all the help you need.

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