Chronic pain after surgery is recognised as an important post-operative complication; recent studies have shown up to 30% of patients reporting persistent pain following mastectomy and inguinal hernia repair. No large-scale studies have investigated the epidemiology of chronic pain at two operative sites following coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). This paper reports the follow-up of a cohort of 1348 patients who underwent cardiac surgery between 1996 and 2000 at one cardiothoracic unit in northeast Scotland. Chronic pain was defined as pain in the location of surgery, different from that suffered pre-operatively, arising post-operatively and persisting beyond 3 months. The survey questionnaire consisted of the short-form-36 (SF-36), Rose angina questionnaire, McGill pain questionnaire and the University of California and San Francisco (UCSF) pain service questionnaire. Of the 1080 responders, 130 reported chronic chest pain, 100 chronic post-saphenectomy pain and 194 reported pain at both surgical sites. The cumulative prevalence of post-cardiac surgery pain was 39.3% (CI(95) 36.4-42.2%) and mean time of 28 months since surgery (SD 15.3 months). Patients who reported pain at both sites had lower quality of life scores across all eight health domains compared to patients with pain at one site only and those who were pain-free. Prevalence of chronic pain decreased with age, from 55% in those aged under 60 years to 34% in patients over 70 years. Patients with pre-operative angina and those who were overweight or obese (BMI>/=25) at the time of surgery were more likely to report chronic pain. Chronic pain following median sternotomy and saphenous vein harvesting is more common than hitherto reported and that patients undergoing CABG should be warned of this possibility.