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Injuries and Medical Advice

Open-Heart Surgery

I’m a 32-year-old man recovering from open-heart surgery about a month ago

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I’m a 32-year-old man recovering from open-heart surgery about a month ago (aortic valve was replaced with a bovine valve). This operation involved sawing my sternum in half. It is currently wired closed and will take about three months to heal, which means I can’t do much lifting or pulling (limited to 10 pounds) for a couple of months. Once I’m able to start climbing again, what is the best way to go about it?

—Derek Franz, Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Nothing like a spinning blade ofsteelbetween your man boobs to disrupt the halcyon life of a not-quite-middle-aged man with a leaky heart valve. Oh, and
let’s not forget the mini car jack they use to open you up like a giant clamshell. Gosh damn, and here you are, unable to be anything but a starfish,
thinking about how to get back to THIRTEEN DEE! You’re awesome.

I see no good reason why you can’t return to form on a musculoskeletal level, but I am not qualified in any way to advise with regard to your heart condition
pre- or post-op. In terms of muscle capacity, improvement will just be a matter of getting into the gym and progressively working through a rehab program
until pectoral muscles and tendons achieve their former strength. I would give your sternum a good eight to 12 weeks before doing much at all. You’re
not in a hurry! Let me reiterate that: YOU ARE NOT IN A HURRY! The bone healing, rather than the tendon anchor of the pectoral muscle, is the limiting
factor here. You will have generalized muscle weakness primarily due to lack of use as opposed to damage resulting from the surgical wound. Surgical
entry through the sternum essentially divides it longitudinally, leaving the insertion of each pectoralis major muscle largely intact as they
attach to their respective sides of the sternal surface.

Conditioning your whole body back to form is the real issue. Your bisected sternum needs time to heal, and you will lose conditioning in the process. Take
the holistic approach if you want to remain uninjured, and condition everything from your fingers to your toes. You know the road. Follow the speed
limits and you’ll be fine.


This article was published in Rock and Ice 225 (April 2015).