• Pain;
  • Sternotomy;
  • Cardiac Surgery;
  • Myofascial Pain;
  • Cervical Angina


Objective.  Despite the technical developments in surgical procedures, chronic poststernotomy pain (CPSP) is still very common. Many theories for its cause have been proposed in the literature, but the etiology is still not clear. Pain along the sternal scar and in the upper extremities (sometimes accompanied with paresthesia) persists in about 30% of cases. These symptoms have been regarded as two separate complications. This study investigated all pain symptoms in patients following sternotomy.

Design.  Retrospective pilot study.

Setting.  Outpatient clinic at the Leiden University Medical Center.

Patients.  A cohort of patients who underwent open heart surgery by median sternotomy between January 1, 2004 and January 1, 2006.

Interventions.  A questionnaire was completed by 631 patients, and a selected sample of 277 patients was examined for pain of the head, neck, back, and chest and upper extremities.

Outcome Measures.  All pain locations were compared in two groups: 189 patients with sternal pain and 88 patients without sternal pain.

Results.  We found that pain and muscular tenderness in the investigated areas unrelated to the chest wall incision were significantly more common in patients with sternal pain compared to the nonsternal pain group. No surgical or demographic factors with the exception of female gender were consistent predictors of sternal pain.

Conclusion.  CPSP is an extensive pain syndrome. Sternal pain is frequently accompanied by pain of the head, neck, back, and upper extremities. Further research on the possible etiology is warranted.