Activity After Chest Surgery

When you get home you may feel more tired than you expect. Do not let this get you down. This is normal and will improve over the next few weeks. You may need some help with groceries, housework, cooking and yard work.

Your body will set limits for your activity. Adjust your activity depending on how you feel. Avoid fatigue! Experience has shown that you feel better, heal faster and gain confidence more quickly if you gradually increase your activity.

  • Plan your day to allow your self time for activity and rest.

  • Slowly increase your walking distance on a daily basis. We recommend that you take a walk or climb a flight of stairs at least twice a day.

  • If you experience sweating, shortness of breath or fatigue during any activity, you may be doing too much. Stop, rest and start the activity later at a slower pace. 

  • Sometimes during surgery you are in the same position for a long time. This can cause shoulder stiffness. To prevent this, follow the exercises from the physiotherapist (also below).

  • Try to get 8 hours or more of sleep each night. An afternoon nap may be helpful during your first few days at home.

  • Avoid lifting, pushing or pulling objects heavier than 10 pounds (5 kilograms) for 6 to 8 weeks.

  • You may start driving again in 3 weeks if you feel
    safe to do so. If you are still taking pain medicines known as opiates or narcotics (for example oxycodone, hydromorphone or tylenol number three) you must not drive. These medicines can make you drowsy.

  • You may return to work when your surgeon suggests.

  • If you have any activity you are wondering about, (for example, golfing, swimming, diving, fishing or exercising at a gym) talk to your surgeon.

  • If you are planning to travel by air, check with your surgeon first. 

Nutrition After Chest Surgery

When you first return home you may not have much of an appetite. This is normal. Your appetite will improve slowly. Eat a balanced diet to help your body heal faster.
Choose foods from the four food groups (i.e. meat & alternatives, breads & cereals, fruits & vegetables, and milk & milk products). If you are on a special diet, your dietitian will have talked to you about this before you leave the hospital.

Constipation After Surgery

Constipation can result from the use of pain medications. The following suggestions may help you prevent or treat constipation:

  • Eat foods that are high in fiber or roughage. Fresh fruits, vegetables, prunes and bran are good choices. Include foods which have helped you move your bowels in the past.

  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of liquid a day.

  • Be as physically active as possible.

  • You may need a laxative. Ask your doctor or nurse to recommend one. 


Quitting smoking and avoiding smoke filled rooms will help you recover faster. There are lots of health benefits gained from quitting smoking. If you need help to quit smoking, please ask your doctor or nurse for information on becoming a non-smoker. There is an entire clinic at VCH devoted to helping you quit smoking, and we can arrange an appointment. You can also call HealthLink BC at 811 for support.

Surgical Incision Care

  • Your incision will usually have dissolvable stitches with steri-strips along the incision line. These steri-strips will gradually fall off.

  • Sometimes staples are used to close your incision. The staples stay in for at least 8 to 10 days after surgery. They are often removed after you have gone home. Your nurse will give you a staple remover to take home with you. This is for your family doctor to remove the staples.

  • You will also have one or two sutures where the chest drains have been removed. These also need to be taken out about a week after you go home. This can also be done by your family doctor.

  • You may have a shower. Do not let the water from the shower flow directly over your incision because the healing tissue may be very sensitive. Do not soak your incision for 2 weeks after you return home. This means no soaking in the bath tub, hot tub or swimming pool. It is best to gently wash your incision with mild soap and water and gently pat dry. Avoid antibacterial soaps. They can irritate your skin.

  • As your incision heals, it may become itchy. Do not rub or scratch your incision. Do not use Aloe and Vitamin E oils for 2 weeks or until the incision is well healed.

  • Protect your incision from the sun. This will prevent your scar from permanent discolouration.

  • Women may find it more comfortable to wear a loose fitting bra, elasticized camisole or tank top to provide some support 

Pain Medicine

Pain relief works best when medicine is taken regularly. Take your medicine as ordered by your doctor. Good pain relief will help you to return to normal activities faster. Regular activity helps to prevent chest infections and muscle stiffness around the chest and shoulder.

Always take pain medicines with water or another liquid so they will dissolve and begin to work quickly. Over time your pain will lessen and you will need less of your pain medicine.

You may have some discomfort for up to a year. This can be helped by keeping active.

If your pain medicine is not working tell your surgeon or family doctor so you can be given something else.

Some pain medicines, especially opiates, cause drowsiness, dizziness and nausea. You must not drive a car or operate dangerous machinery while taking these medicines.

Avoid alcohol while you are taking pain medicine.

Continue taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) for 3–4 days after returning home. If you were given a prescription for stronger pain pills, you can take them if acetaminophen is not controlling your pain. 

Call your Doctor if any of these happen:

  • You cannot drink fluids or keep them down.

  • Your pain is no longer relieved with your medicine.

  • You have a fever greater than 38°C.

  • You have difficultly breathing.

  • You have pain or swelling of the legs.

  • Your incision becomes sore, swollen, red or you see drainage coming from the incision.