Heart surgery is complicated and requires rest, dietary changes, and specific care in order to recover without incident. Proper care after heart surgery can also shorten the recovery time. The following are Live Free’s top tips for recovery after heart surgery at home:

  • Caring for the Incision
  • Instructions on how to care for the incision will be given prior to leaving the hospital. Considerations to be aware of include:
  • Keep the incision clean and dry.
  • The incision can be gently washed (don’t rub) with soap. Do not use creams or lotions on incisions until they are healed.
  • Sometimes a swelling or lump appears at the top of the chest incision, and can take several months to disappear.
  • If the incision is healing and dry, quick showers (no longer than 10 minutes) are usually allowed. If there are sutures in the chest, stand with back to the shower spray.
  • If showers are not available, quick baths (limited to 10 minutes) may be taken.
  • Avoid extreme hot or cold water temperatures, as they can cause faintness.

Pain Management

At first, there may be some muscle or incision discomfort in the chest area during activity, but there should not be pain in the chest similar to the pain before surgery.

  • A prescription for a pain medication will be given before leaving the hospital.
  • Itching, tightness and/or numbness along the incision are normal after surgery.
  • If the surgery was bypass surgery, and if vein grafts from the legs were used, there may be more pain in the legs than around the chest incision.
  • Walking, daily activities, and time will help to lessen leg discomfort and stiffness.


It is possible to return home with some swelling in the legs and feet, especially if vein grafts were taken from the legs. If there is swelling:

  • Place feet up higher than heart level when resting. Try this three times a day for one hour to relieve swelling. (Note: recliners do not adequately elevate feet.)
  • Walk daily even if legs are swollen.
  • Hospital support hose may be suggested.
  • Do not cross legs while lying in bed or sitting. This puts pressure on the veins under the knees and slows blood flow.

The recovery period can be a scary time and you may be tempted to call the doctor over every discomfort or symptom. If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor immediately:

  • Temperature above 101 degrees F on more than one occasion or chills for 24 hours.
  • Excessive oozing, redness, swelling or tenderness at the incision sites.
  • Increased fatigue or shortness of breath.
  • Abnormal pain or other symptoms not relieved by medications.
  • If the sternum feels like it moves, or it pops or cracks with movement.

Franklin home health care from professional caregivers, like those at Live Free Home Health Care, can help heart surgery patients manage their care and household upkeep while allowing them time to rest and recuperate. Read more Live Free Home Health Care resources on caring for the heart.

Contact Live Free Home Health Care to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one during the recovery process.