Home Care after Thoracotomy
What is a thoracotomy?
A thoracotomy is a surgical incision of the chest wall (about
4-6 inches long) that is made between muscles of the chest
wall, then between two ribs. Sometimes a part of the rib is
taken out. You will require one or more chest tubes after a
After the chest tube is removed, leave the chest tube
dressing in place for 48 hours.
Remove the dressing on ______________________.
After the chest tube dressing is removed, you may shower or wash the incisions
daily with mild soap and water. Do not put lotions, powders, or antibacterial
ointments on the incisions. Pat your incisions dry. Do not rub them because it
Do not soak in a bathtub or hot tub or go swimming until your incisions have
Check your incisions daily for signs and symptoms of infection. These include:
ξ Increased redness
ξ Pus-like drainage
ξ Excess swelling
ξ Temperature (by mouth) greater than 100.4° F for two readings, 4 hours
There should be no drainage from your incision. Any drainage from the chest tube
site will be only a scant amount for a day or two. Wear a Band-Aid or small
dressing over the site until the drainage stops. Change the dressing daily and as
When you go home, your incision may have staples or stitches in place.
Sometimes, small pieces of tape called steri-strips are placed after your staples are
removed. It is okay if these tape strips fall off, but don’t pull them off. When you
return for your clinic visit in 1-2 weeks, the doctors will remove staples or stitches
that are left.
It is very common to have pain after a thoracotomy.
When you are in pain, take your pain pills as ordered. If the pain is sharp and
constant or gets worse, call your doctor.
Other pain management techniques:
ξ Warm showers (once chest tube dressing is removed) to help loosen the
ξ Heating pads: near the incision site, make sure to place a towel between you
and the heating pad to prevent burns.
ξ Splinting with coughing (hold a pillow tight against the chest when
Walk 3-4 times each day.
Use your incentive spirometer 10 times every couple of hours.
Do range of motion exercises with your arms10 times each 2-3 times daily
for 3 weeks on the side where the thoracotomy incision was made. It may
feel best to do these in the shower; the warm water will loosen the muscles
making the exercises easier to do.
o Raise your arm over your head with the elbow straight. Bring the arm
towards your ear.
o Place your hand behind your neck and try to move that hand towards
the opposite shoulder blade.
o Hold your arm straight out in front of you and cross it over to the
other side of your body.
o Shrug your shoulders up, down and in circles.
o Squeeze your shoulder blades together
Use the arm on your surgery side as you normally would in your daily
routine (dressing, showering, and combing hair).
Do not drive for 4 weeks or if you are using narcotic pain pills.
Do not lift greater than 10 pounds (gallon of milk) for about 4 weeks or until
instructed by the doctor.
When to Call the Doctor
Signs of infection
o Increased redness
o Pus-like drainage
o Excess swelling
o Temperature (by mouth) greater than 100.4° F for two readings, 4 hours
Sudden onset of sharp chest pain with shortness of breath
Surgery Clinic: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (608) 263-7502
Dr. Maloney’s office: (608) 263-5215
Dr. Macke’s Office: (608) 263-5215
Dr. Blasberg’s Office: (608) 263-5215
After hours, the clinic number will be answered by the hospital paging operator at
(608) 262-2122. Ask for the thoracic surgery resident on call. Leave your name
and phone number with the area code. The doctor will call you back.
If you live out of the area, please call: Toll Free 1-800-323-8942.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 5/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5836.