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Post-Thoracotomy Pain Syndrome

Did you have a portion of your lung removed through traditional surgery?  After your incision healed, do you experience pain near and around your incision but it feels like “it’s coming from inside.”  Well, you are not imagining things and it is possibly post-thoracotomy pain syndrome (PTPS).

PTPS is symptoms of pain occurring within the area of the thoracotomy incision and persisting for at least two months or more following the surgical procedure.1

Keep in mind, when your surgery was performed, your ribs were spread.  You may have actually had a rib removed (as I did) to enable your surgeon to get a better angle during surgery.

Symptoms of PTPS

Some of the most common symptoms that people experience are: pain including sharp, stabbing pain along the area of the incision scar, constant shooting pain, pinching sensations, constant dull, achy, and even vague feelings of pain and discomfort, cramping, and localized tenderness.2 In my case, my incision comes from under my arm and up my back (near my shoulder blade) so it looks like a “J”  The pain that I feel is from my incision all the way up to my shoulder.  The pain occurs from compression and sensitivity to the nerves where your surgical incision is.  The pain may also be felt in your chest.

Actually, the first day that I realized this was not normal healing pain, was when my shoulder hurt so badly that I couldn’t raise up my arm without feeling the pain from my shoulder to the incision.  I mentioned it to my primary care physician, my oncologist, my pulmonologist and, finally, my nurse.  It wasn’t until I mentioned it to my nurse that she went and spoke to my medical team and they agreed it was PTPS.

Talking to Your Care Team

Typically, your medical team will try the most conservative approach which would be pain relievers, like NSAIDS. This may provide the relief you need depending on the intensity of the pain; however, many people go on opioids for relief which can cause a whole array of other issues.

Don’t be afraid to speak to your medical team if you have pain that hasn’t gone away after your surgery.  Your recovery will be slow and steady but over time your pain should disappear.  If it doesn’t, begin keeping a log for a few weeks to see if different types of activities cause it, or, do you just wake up with it?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The LungCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Gerner P., Gerner P. (2012) Chronic Post-Thoracotomy Pain Syndrome. In: Hartigan P. (eds) Practical Handbook of Thoracic Anesthesia. Springer, Boston, MA.
  2. Post Thoracotomy Pain – Intercostal. Pain Doctor. Available at: https://paindoctor.com/conditions/post-thoracotomy-pain-intercostal/

Comments

  • skip
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the info, Jennifer. Right upper lobe removed 3 months ago, incision from under armpit looping upward to just about the center of my back. With the help of OxyContin I was doing well until the day 3 weeks after surgery I was transported to the hospital due to internal bleeding in my chest cavity. I was within a few hours of bleeding to death. The surgeon used the same incision to correct the problem and thank goodness no other life threatening situations have occurred. But, the uncomfortable feeling in my chest cavity due to
    numbness and the pain around the area of the incision and drain tubes still exist. Ok in AM, but gets worse after a day of moderate activity which Tylenol barely controls. I’m not happy for your continuing pain and appreciate your sharing, maybe I’m being a little impatient, but you have given me information I can discuss with my cancer team next week. Thank you and feel better!

  • Margot moderator
    2 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story with us @skip we really appreciate it! I’m sorry to hear about these struggles; please do continue to keep us updated if you would like to – we will be thinking of you. I’m glad you found this information helpful and hope that talking to your healthcare team goes well!

    Warmly,
    Margot, LungCancer.net Team Member

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