Thoracotomy: Your Home Recovery

Man resting with eyes closed.

For the first several weeks after your surgery, you’ll be gaining a little more energy and strength each day. Breathing may be uncomfortable at first, and you may be short of breath. Take things slowly, and rest when you get tired. Your doctor or nurse can talk with you about what you can and can’t do as you recover.

Caring for your incision

Your doctor will tell you when it’s OK to shower. When you shower, wash your incision gently with warm (not hot) water and mild soap. Bruising, itchiness, soreness, and numbness at your incision site are normal for several weeks after surgery.

Taking medicines

Take your pain medicines regularly, as your doctor tells you to. Don’t wait until the pain gets bad before you take them. In addition to medicine for pain, your doctor may prescribe other medicines. Oxygen may also be prescribed.

Easing into activity

For 6–8 weeks after your surgery, avoid any activity that might put stress on your healing incisions. This includes heavy lifting or yard work. Do start walking, though, to improve your circulation, lung capacity, and strength. Taking pain medicines before activity will help make breathing more comfortable. You’ll probably feel short of breath for several weeks. This is normal and will improve with time. As you begin to feel better, you can gradually add more strenuous activities. Ask your doctor how long to wait before returning to sexual relations, driving, and work.


When to call your healthcare provider

  • Draining or very red incision

  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath

  • Sudden, sharp chest pain

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Rapid heartbeat or “fluttering” in your chest


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