Is a chest tube painful?

If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance that you have recently undergone an operation and are now faced with the daunting prospect of having a chest tube inserted. Perhaps you’re wondering if the rumors that it will be extremely painful are true? Well, let’s explore the topic in more detail.

What exactly is a chest tube?

A chest tube (also known as thoracostomy) is essentially a plastic tube that is inserted through your side into your pleural space to allow air or fluid to escape. It sounds like something out of Frankenstein’s laboratory, but don’t worry too much! Whilst we could debate aestheticism until the cows come home – believe me on this one: You will most likely not be able to see much once they’ve had their way…

Why do people need them?

Chest tubes are typically only used when all other options have been exhausted, e.g., medication therapy has not been effective or where there’s insufficient drainage caused by blood clots etc.

Causes for needing Chest Tubes

  • Pneumothorax (accumulation of air in breathing space)
  • Hemothorax (a collection of blood between lung/thoracic wall/chest cavity)
  • Pleural Effusion

Speaking from personal experience (not really), these conditions combined can lead patients feeling like their lungs want to explode!

Ok then…But does it hurt??

Ah… The million-dollar question – Does it hurt?!
The doctor may try and relieve some anxiety by doing something called “nerve blocks”, which means injecting local anaesthetic close to nerve endings around areas requiring insertion. For instance: Xylocaine Jelly insertion

However,(sorry we lied)- Whilst everybody reacts differently; when I say ‘you’re going feel sensation’- what I mean, is generally speaking….it ain’t going tickle! Nonetheless, patients are often heavily medicated during the process.

Rule of Thumb

  • If you’ve had broken bones before, be prepared to reconnect with that level of pain
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, expect at least a 7 on average.

So there’s your answer! It might not necessarily be the most painful thing you’ve ever experienced…but just know it’s going to sting like £$@#!

How is it done?

The insertion can take between quite some time as different devices may need testing and reinsertion. But trust me it’ll feel longer when taking into account coughs or any movements made in the hospital bed…

If given no option due to urgency, face masks will have normally been provided. These help both visually watch whats happening (imagine every episode of greys anatomy right about now) other than giving more oxygen for breathing purposes; reminding yourself helps keep calm knowing what’s happening clearly 😉

A sterile area will obviously be cleaned and revealed by movement yikes, then anaesthesia applied – this can numb surrounding areas and lessen immediate reaction (thank god) further aiding overall control reducing risks whenever possible…

You’ll then proceed onto bed rest unless advised otherwise by medical professionals;

In Summary:

  • Do NOT attempt chest tube insertion in public – no one wants that view!
  • The procedure may seem arduous but remain cooperative getting through each step as best as possible.
    Perhaps bring headphones? Be sure listening to Dr Dre won’t interfere with medical communication…

Potential Complications

Chest tubes really aren’t all that pleasant I’m afraid. There is always potential for complications:

Various Risks Can Include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection!!!
    (no tiktok here folks, safety is key U^・ェ・^U)


To put things simply; yes chest tubes hurt because they’re being inserted into sensitive all-arounds areas, but more importantly they greatly assist in the healing process. Supporting professionals involved means listening closely to optimise what can be done your end too.

Just know you’ll get through it – even if you might hate the journey on the way….

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