Is Sternal Nonunion Painful? Understanding the Pain Associated with Nonunion of the Sternum

Have you ever experienced a pain in the center of your chest that just wouldn’t go away? It could be a sign of sternal nonunion, a condition in which the breastbone fails to heal properly following surgery or trauma. Patients often describe the pain as sharp and persistent, causing discomfort while breathing, moving, or even sleeping. If you’re dealing with this condition, you’re not alone – it affects countless people worldwide.

But how does sternal nonunion occur, and what are the possible causes? The breastbone is a crucial component of the chest, connecting the ribs and protecting vital organs like the heart and lungs. During a surgical procedure or severe injury, it may become damaged and require treatment to promote healing. But in some cases, the bone fails to reunite, leading to sternal nonunion and all the pain and discomfort that comes with it. So, it’s essential to understand this condition if you’re dealing with chest pain and other symptoms.

Symptoms of Sternal Nonunion

Sternum nonunion is a condition that occurs when the sternum, also known as the breastbone, fails to heal properly after a surgical procedure. This condition can be quite debilitating and can cause significant pain and difficulty in breathing. Some of the common symptoms of sternal nonunion include the following:

  • Severe pain in the chest area
  • Sensation of clicking or popping in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fatigue, weakness, and lack of energy
  • Chronic cough or increased production of phlegm
  • Swelling, tenderness, and bruising around the chest area
  • Visible deformity or misalignment of the breastbone

In some cases, patients with sternal nonunion may not experience any symptoms initially. However, as the condition progresses, the symptoms may become more pronounced and begin to interfere with daily activities. It is essential to seek medical attention promptly if you experience any of these symptoms.

Causes of Sternal Nonunion

Sternal nonunion, also known as a malunion, is a complication that can occur in patients who have undergone sternotomy or chest surgery. The condition occurs when the breastbone fails to heal properly after surgery, leading to the separation of the two halves of the bone. This can result in chronic pain, breathing difficulties, and other complications that can severely impact a patient’s quality of life.

  • Patient Factors: Factors that contribute to sternal nonunion include advanced age, diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, smoking, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Surgical Factors: Surgical factors that increase the risk of sternal nonunion include poor surgical technique, prolonged surgery time, and inadequate postoperative care.
  • Medical Factors: Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer can also increase the risk of sternal nonunion and prolong healing time.

Identifying the underlying cause of sternal nonunion is critical in developing an effective treatment plan. In some cases, nonoperative management may be sufficient, but in more severe cases, additional surgery may be required.

Table: Common Causes of Sternal Nonunion

Cause Description
Patient Factors Advanced age, diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, smoking, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Surgical Factors Poor surgical technique, prolonged surgery time, and inadequate postoperative care
Medical Factors Hypothyroidism, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer

Prevention of sternal nonunion is crucial. Surgeons must take steps to minimize the risk of sternal complications during surgery and provide proper postoperative care to promote healing. Additionally, patients who undergo chest surgery should be educated on ways to reduce their risk of complications, such as adhering to a healthy lifestyle, managing underlying medical conditions, and quitting smoking. Early identification and treatment of sternal nonunion can also improve outcomes and minimize the risk of chronic pain and complications for patients.

Diagnosis of Sternal Nonunion

Sternal nonunion is a condition that occurs when the sternum, a flat bone in the center of the chest that connects the ribs, fails to heal properly following surgery or trauma. Diagnosis of sternal nonunion is important as it can cause significant pain and may require further treatment. The following are ways to diagnose sternal nonunion:

  • Physical examination – Your doctor may first perform a physical examination by pressing on the sternum to check for any pain or movement.
  • X-rays – X-rays are commonly used to diagnose sternal nonunion. They can reveal the separation or movement of the sternum.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans – CT scans provide a detailed view of the bone and can show any gaps or fractures in the sternum.

If sternal nonunion is suspected, further tests may be required to determine the extent of the condition and to rule out any complications. These may include a bone scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms of sternal nonunion, such as persistent pain or a clicking sensation in the chest following surgery or trauma. Early diagnosis can lead to better outcomes and more effective treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms Diagnostics
Persistent pain in the chest Physical examination, X-rays, CT scans, bone scan, MRI
Clicking sensation in the chest Physical examination, X-rays, CT scans, bone scan, MRI

If you are experiencing any symptoms related to sternal nonunion, it is important to consult with a medical professional who can provide a proper diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment Options for Sternal Nonunion

Sternal nonunion is a medical condition where the sternum or breastbone fails to heal properly after an injury or surgery. One of the most common complications associated with sternal nonunion is pain, which can be severe and debilitating. In this article, we will discuss treatment options for sternal nonunion, with a particular focus on pain management.

  • Non-surgical Treatment
  • Non-surgical treatment involves pain management techniques and the use of supportive devices.

    • Pain Management: Doctors may prescribe pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or opioids, to manage pain associated with sternal nonunion.
    • Use of Supportive Devices: Patients may use a chest brace or support garment to help protect and stabilize the injured area. These devices can help reduce pain and improve healing time.
  • Surgical Treatment
  • Surgical treatments can range from the use of wire sutures to more complex procedures.

    • Wire Sutures: This is the simplest surgical option and involves the use of wire sutures to stabilize the sternum. This procedure is performed under local anesthesia and is typically outpatient surgery.
    • Plate and Screw Fixation: This procedure involves the use of metal plates and screws to stabilize the sternum. This technique is more complex than wire sutures and may require general anesthesia.
    • Sternal Reconstruction: In very rare cases, a surgeon may perform a sternal reconstruction. This involves the replacement of the damaged sternum with a synthetic or biological implant.

In conclusion, sternal nonunion can be a painful and debilitating condition. However, there are many treatment options available to manage pain and promote healing. Non-surgical treatment options include pain management techniques and the use of supportive devices, while surgical treatment can range from wire sutures to sternal reconstruction. If you are suffering from sternal nonunion, speak to your doctor to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Treatment Option Pros Cons
Non-surgical Treatment Less invasive, minimal recovery time May not be effective for all patients, long-term use of pain medication may have side effects
Wire Sutures Simple procedure, outpatient surgery May not be suitable for all patients, may not provide the necessary stability for complete healing
Plate and Screw Fixation Provides strong stability, repairs fractures and prevents further damage Requires a more complex procedure and may require general anesthesia, may be more expensive than other options
Sternal Reconstruction May be necessary for severe cases, can provide complete healing Very complex procedure, requires more recovery time, may be expensive

Table: Pros and Cons of treatment options for sternal nonunion

Recovery Process after Sternal Nonunion Surgery

If you have undergone sternal nonunion surgery, you may be wondering about the recovery process. While the length and specifics of recovery can vary depending on the individual case, there are some general guidelines to follow.

1. Pain Management

  • After surgery, you will likely experience some pain and discomfort.
  • Your doctor will prescribe medication to help manage the pain.
  • It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions on taking medication, as well as any other pain management techniques recommended.

2. Wound Care

  • You will need to keep the wound clean and dry for the first few weeks after surgery.
  • Your doctor will provide instructions on how to care for the wound, including changing dressings and avoiding certain activities.
  • It’s important to follow these instructions carefully to ensure proper healing.

3. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process after sternal nonunion surgery. Your doctor may recommend starting physical therapy a few weeks after surgery, once the wound has healed.

The goal of physical therapy is to:

  • Help you regain strength and range of motion in the affected area
  • Reduce pain and swelling
  • Prevent future injuries

4. Returning to Normal Activities

Your doctor will provide specific instructions on when you can resume normal activities, such as driving and working.

It’s important to follow these instructions carefully to avoid causing further damage to your sternal area.

5. Timeline for Recovery

The timeline for recovery after sternal nonunion surgery can vary depending on the severity of the case and other individual factors.

Weeks Post-Op Activity Level
0-2 Rest and limited activity
2-4 Physical therapy and gradually increasing activity
4-6 Continued physical therapy and gradual return to normal activities
6+ Full recovery and return to normal activities

During the recovery process, it’s important to be patient and follow your doctor’s instructions closely. With proper care and management, most individuals are able to fully recover from sternal nonunion surgery.

Risks and Complications of Sternal Nonunion

Sternal nonunion is a serious condition that results when the breastbone or sternum fails to heal properly after surgery or injury. It can be a painful and debilitating condition that can affect your quality of life. Here are some of the risks and complications of sternal nonunion that you should be aware of:

  • Severe pain in the chest and upper back
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down
  • Infections in the area of the nonunion

Other more severe complications may arise as a result of sternal nonunion. Some of the most serious potential complications include:

  • Infection of the bone (osteomyelitis)
  • Fracture of the sternum
  • Respiratory failure
  • Cardiac complications

It is essential to treat sternal nonunion promptly to avoid these complications and help the bone to heal properly. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to fix the nonunion.

Risk Factors for Sternal Nonunion Prevention and Treatment
Advanced age Optimizing nutrition and medical management
Smoking Cessation of smoking
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Effective management of COPD
Obesity Weight management and exercise

Patients who have sternal nonunion should follow their surgeon’s advice to help promote bone healing. This may include rest, medications, physical therapy, and other treatments that can help control pain and prevent further injury to the bone.

Prevention of Sternal Nonunion

Sternal nonunion is a concerning complication that can develop after sternotomy. It is a condition where the sternum (breastbone) fails to heal properly after surgery, leading to persistent chest pain, instability, and an increased risk of infection. While treatment of sternal nonunion can be difficult, it is a preventable condition. Here are some preventive measures that can reduce the risk of sternal nonunion:

  • Adequate closure: The careful closure of the sternum with appropriate suturing materials and methods is essential in achieving bony union. The use of sternal wires that provide a stable fixation is preferred over other methods, such as rigid plate systems.
  • Patient optimization: Preoperative optimization of the patient’s general health, such as smoking cessation, and the correction of any existing nutritional deficits can help in reducing the risk of sternal nonunion. Proper pain management after surgery is also crucial as uncontrolled pain can inhibit coughing and deep breathing, which can further delay the healing process.
  • Timing of surgery: Early recognition and treatment of infection, delayed sternal closure, and timely intervention can reduce the risk of sternal nonunion. Performing a sternotomy without delay for patients with indications can prevent complications associated with sternotomy through a smaller incision, thus reducing the risk for infection and improving the patient’s outcome.
  • Appropriate surgical technique: The use of minimally invasive techniques, such as a “muscle-sparing” approach, can reduce the amount of soft tissue dissection, leading to a decreased risk of sternal nonunion. Also, surgeons should avoid tissue trauma and excessive manipulation of the sternum that can destroy the blood supply, leading to nonunion.

By taking appropriate preventive measures, the incidence of sternal nonunion after sternotomy can be reduced. Surgeons should employ a multi-modal approach, including close monitoring and timely intervention, to prevent and treat this challenging postoperative complication.

7 FAQs about Sternal Nonunion Pain

1. What is sternal nonunion?
Sternal nonunion is when the breastbone does not heal properly after a surgery or injury, resulting in the separation of the bone fragments.

2. Is sternal nonunion painful?
Yes, sternal nonunion can be very painful, especially when breathing, coughing, or moving. The pain may be severe and can impact daily activities.

3. What are the symptoms of sternal nonunion?
The most common symptoms include pain in the chest area, difficulty breathing, chest deformity, and an abnormal clicking sound when breathing.

4. How is sternal nonunion diagnosed?
A doctor will perform a physical exam and may order imaging studies, such as a CT scan or X-ray, to diagnose sternal nonunion.

5. What are the treatment options for sternal nonunion?
Treatment may include pain management, physical therapy, and surgery. Surgery is usually considered when the pain is severe and affects the patient’s quality of life.

6. How long does it take to recover from sternal nonunion surgery?
Recovery time may vary depending on the severity of the condition and the type of surgery performed. Generally, it can take several weeks to several months to fully recover.

7. Can sternal nonunion be prevented?
Bony union can be promoted by immobilizing the chest with sternal support and wires. Patients are advised not to exert excessive force that can cause displacement of the sternum.

Closing Thoughts

Sternal nonunion can be a painful and debilitating condition, but there are treatment options available to alleviate symptoms and promote healing. If you suspect that you may have sternal nonunion, it is important to consult with a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Thank you for reading and please visit us again for more health-related articles.