Stretching your upper body following open heart surgery

If you just had your chest recently surgically opened, the last thing you want to think about is stretching, but after time it becomes very important. You may not physically remember the pain of surgery but your body does. It gradually rounds the shoulders forward, the head is carried slightly more forward, and these changes make the subtle curve in the low back gradually flatten. Many patients when they first attend cardiac rehabilitation complain of pain and spasm to their upper back and shoulders. When I worked in physical therapy I would have many patients present several years after open heart surgery with low back pain. Many had the characteristic posture I described above.

Here are a few suggestion to help you in the healing process.

Be very aware of your posture – if you are sore, think about what posture you are in. Are you seated with your shoulders slumped and head forward? If so adding a lumbar support to your chair will help to straighten your back posture. Another suggestion is to get up and move more frequently.

Pain in the shoulder blade region?

If so begin with gentle chest stretching and shoulder stretching. It is very important you avoid pain. I usually wait until my patients are approximately 6 weeks in recovery before initiating this. Do not take any stretch to pain. Do not bounce stretches.

There are three different postures to get the different muscle groups of the chest. One leg is forward simply to maintain the curve of the low back. Hold the stretch 10 to 15 seconds, repeat 1-2 times. It is ok to do this stretch a few times per day.

   These are other good stretches for the chest

Upper back stretching

The muscles act very similar to pulleys. If one side shortens the other side lengthens. If the muscles of the chest are short the muscles of the upper back are stretched. Prolonged stretch leads to muscle spasm, and this makes many people feel like they have knots in their upper back. There is a great stretch for this.


Reach down grasp opposite knee with hand (left hand grasp right knee). Relax your head pull up gently, hold 10-15 seconds. Repeat with opposite hand/knee. repeat one to two times.

7 thoughts on “Stretching your upper body following open heart surgery

  1. Pingback: Building the chest and back muscles after open heart surgery | Rehabilitate Your Heart

  2. Pingback: Building chest and back muscles after open heart surgery | Rehabilitate Your Heart

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  4. Pingback: Stretching your upper body following open heart surgery | Dear Dr. Ryles , I Need To Know _____ ?

  5. I had AAA surgery 18 months ago. I only got 2 rehab appts and they never got to covering chest stretches. Now I have a chest that is pulled in and shoulder pain. I have a PT giving me stretching exercise to get me back to better posture. Great information, wish I had seen this earlier.

    • Thanks Rick! Two visits isn’t nearly enough to get through all the information. I put this page together as research shows only 10-30% of those eligible for Rehabilitation Services attend, so there are a whole lot of folks out there who could benefit from the services but don’t get them. Educating as many as I can about how to rehabilitate from heart issues.

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