Healing After a Pacemaker or ICD

Understanding what you can or should be doing after your surgery is important to give you the best recovery possible. It is very normal for people to feel unsure about doing anything with the affected side out of fear of pulling out wires, or simply wanting to protect the area from pain. In fact, however, sometimes being over protective can slow the healing, and make your recovery a little harder, and perhaps longer, than it should be.

Pacemakers & Implantable Cardiac Defibrilators (ICD’S) are implanted just below the collar bone either under the skin, or under the chest (Pectoralis) muscle. The recovery from this surgery is generally fairly quick… as long as you take care of yourself.

Guidelines state the first couple of days, simply rest. Your body, and mind have been through some stress and allowing yourself the opportunity to rest will help build up your stores to tackle the healing process. Stay on top of pain medications as well. Don’t wait until you start to get overly sore to take them.

Guidelines also state no driving for the first week, and for the next 4 – 6 weeks to be mindful of activities using repetitive pushing/pulling motions on the affected side. Such activities include vacuuming & sweeping. No reaching above your head or behind your back with the affected arm during this time, and no heavy lifting (more than 10 pounds) with that arm as well.

What you need to understand about these guidelines is they are just that….guidelines. They are not hard, fast rules. We are not all the same. Some will recover faster than others, some of you were stronger going into this procedure than others, so some of you will be ready to use that arm a little sooner. Use “how you feel” as your guide.

Doing cardiovascular exercise like going for walks, and doing lower body strength training exercises will help you maintain the strength and stamina you have. It will help your body bring fresh new nutrient dense blood to the area and flush away any stale, old cells, assisting your body with healing. Ideally you want to start with some gentle range of motion exercises as soon as you feel you are ready. There is a great video on our site called Upper Body Range of Motion (0-4 weeks) that was designed for people who have had open heart surgery, but would also be perfect for those who have had a device implanted as well!!! The idea is you want to start slowly, take your time, and stay in a pain free range of motion.

For those of you who have had your surgery some time ago, but still feel discomfort, first talk to your doctor. However, commonly it has nothing to do with your pacemaker and more to do with you being a little too overprotective for a little too long. When we go into protection mode, and stay in protection mode long enough, the muscles and structures surrounding the area can get tight and weak. We begin to lose normal function of our arm. We change what activities we are willing to do, which leads to even more function loss, and even more pain, and can lead to depression and anxiety because we feel so restricted and uncomfortable. It can be a vicious cycle! This does happen, so if this is you, you are not alone!! Start where you are and begin working at bringing that function back. It will take some time and consistency… but it will get better if you are willing to work at it.

Exercise is good for you! It’s cheap, and effective. Consistency is the key.

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Shawna Cook

Shawna is a Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine, who has been working in Cardiac Rehabilitation for over 10 years. Her years in the health and fitness field however have spanned over the past 2+ decades. As an elite level athlete she fell in love with understanding the human body, and how the choices she made, affected how it performed. This led to a degree from the University of Winnipeg in the stream of Athletic Therapy, and the passion towards helping others recover from injury and "be their best selves" grew.