Favorite stretches for open heart surgery patients

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.

Stretches for open heart surgery recovery.

Neck –  Sternocleidomastoid stretch.


To Stretch the Neck’s Sternocleidomastoid muscle

1. Chin to chest

2. Keeping chin down bring ear to shoulder

3. Shift head so you are looking at your armpit.  Tuck your chin in to further the stretch.

4. Gently place hand on head to give additional stretch and be aware of shoulder, try not to let shoulder rise while stretching.

This stretch is also good to do while lying in bed, or sitting in chair and grasping chair

  • Repeat to opposite side.
  • Do not apply over pressure.
  • Do not experience any pain.

 These are other good stretches for the chest

A suggestion for upper back discomfort is to begin with gentle chest stretching and shoulder stretching. It is very important you avoid pain.  It is safer to wait until  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.


Upper back stretching

Great for relieving pain in shoulder-blade region

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.