FTM/N Top Surgery: Muscle Splinting & Post-Operative Pain

It’s not uncommon after top surgery for patients to feel very ‘tight’, which at first might seem like the skin is tighter than they expected.  They describe a tendency toward hunching over a bit, and a discomfort with standing up straight.  Though it is true that probably this is partly as a result of skin tension, it’s also likely due to ‘muscle splinting’ which is an involuntary contraction of muscles after some surgeries.

For some patients after surgery, the brain may respond to the tissue damage by telling the nearby muscles to contract. This rigidity or locking up into a hunched posture is the body’s effort to avoid further pain and injury. It is a protective mechanism called muscle splinting (or protective muscle spasms) that can be painful. Some patients have reported significant pain in their shoulders, shoulder blades, or upper back. This is temporary, normal, and treatable.

How to Treat FTM/N Top Surgery Muscle Splinting

You will be prescribed medication to take during recovery. These will include pain medication to help with inevitable bruising, swelling, and discomfort. Ice, head elevation while lying down, and avoiding overexertion will help prevent further rigidity. Making yourself as comfortable and relaxed as possible will help to relax your muscles.  It’s not usually necessary, but a physician can also prescribe a muscle relaxant such as Flexeril to help out as well.

If tension continues beyond 2-3 months after surgery, massage therapy and regular stretching can help remind muscles to relax and return to their normal state.

Muscle Splinting & Post-operative Pain; Emotionally Processing Symptoms after FTM/N Top Surgery

Extended physical discomfort can take a toll on the mind. Everyone has their own style of processing, coping, and self-care. Some tips for keeping yourself as comfortable and positive as possible during your recovery include:

  • Prepping things beforehand: Comfort food, nutritious meals, a comfortable place to rest
  • Things to do: Having creative, uplifting, or distracting activities ready such as a sketchbook, your journal, a book, movies
  • Self-compassion: Performing a routine of self-affirmations for gratitude
  • Nature: Getting fresh, outside air as soon as you’re able
  • Support network: Surrounding yourself with supportive people who will give you what you need and allow you to rest

Your body may react to surgery by painfully contracting to protect itself. Our surgeons will provide you with detailed instructions on preparing for surgery and post-op care, addressing the discomfort. However, we recommend taking additional measures (such as the bullets above) to increase your own personal comfort and positivity as you heal.

Muscle Splinting in Conclusion

  • Muscle splinting is a human reaction to being wounded, although ‘strange’ pains can be worrisome after surgery take into account what was discussed
  • Don’t assume that every pain you’re experiencing is a side effect of muscle splinting, keep in contact with your top surgeon and communicate high pain levels or strange feelings