Cardiac surgery via median sternotomy is performed in over 1 million patients per year worldwide. Despite evidence, sternal precautions in the form of restricted arm and trunk activity are routinely prescribed to patients following surgery to prevent sternal complications. Sternal precautions may exacerbate loss of independence and prevent patients from returning home directly after hospital discharge. In addition, immobility and deconditioning associated with restricting physical activity potentially contribute to the negative sequelae of median sternotomy on patient symptoms, physical and psychosocial function, and quality of life. Interpreting the clinical impact of sternal precautions is challenging due to inconsistent definitions and applications globally. Following median sternotomy, typical guidelines involve limiting arm movement during loaded lifting, pushing, and pulling for 6 to 8 weeks. This perspective paper proposes that there is robust evidence to support early implementation of upper body activity and exercise in patients recovering from median sternotomy while minimizing risk of complications. A clinical paradigm shift is encouraged, one that encourages a greater amount of controlled upper body activity, albeit modified in some situations, and less restrictive sternal precautions. Early screening for sternal complication risk factors and instability followed by individualized progressive functional activity and upper body therapeutic exercise is likely to promote optimal and timely patient recovery. Substantial research documenting current clinical practice of sternal precautions, early physical therapy, and cardiac rehabilitation provides support and the context for understanding why a less restrictive and more active plan of care is warranted and recommended for patients following a median sternotomy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation