Sternotomy aftercare

Leaflet number: 649
Review due date: March 2018

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Washing and dressing

  • Do not soak in a bath for around six to eight weeks after surgery. Showering is fine. If you do not have a shower, we advise you strip wash in a basin.
  • Avoid using a flannel during washing to minimise the risk of infection if your wound is free from dressings. It is fine to shower using a mild shower gel. Avoid using a bar of soap as this may increase the risk of infection.
  • Always use clean dry towels. Do not share them with anyone else. You should gently pat the area dry rather than rub it.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing over the wound until it has fully healed. This will prevent rubbing on the wound.


If you notice redness, soreness, swelling, oozing or bleeding at the wound site, or it is hot to touch, please contact your GP as this could be a sign of infection.

Dental health

If you have had valve replacement surgery, it is important you keep on top of your dental health. Please inform your dentist of your recent surgery.


  • It is important that you do not place excess strain on your breastbone in the first few weeks after surgery. Avoid heavy tasks around the home such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn.
  • Lifting heavy shopping or laundry is not advised. You may use your arms for light tasks such as getting in and out of your bed or a chair, but try to keep your arms close to your sides.
  • You may move your arms within a pain-free range, but avoid reaching backwards and upwards with both arms at the same time. Keep arms between shoulders and hips for the first four weeks. If you try to do something and you feel your sternum pull, stop and avoid that activity.


  • Exercise is an important part of your recovery. Light exercise such as five to 10 minutes walking will help your body heal, increase your overall fitness, improve your sleep pattern and reduce your stress levels.
  • If you have concerns about exercising post-surgery, please contact your GP to discuss your exercise plans first.

Further information

If you have any queries or concerns about your sternotomy, please call Kimberly Endacott or Roger Tithecott on 01271 321586.


British Heart Foundation –




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Last updated: October 10, 2019