Neck Surgery: What to Expect on the Day of Surgery

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The day of neck surgery can be exciting, nerve-wracking, and for most patients, a bit scary. Once you've taken care of all the necessary preparations leading up to surgery, there's not much left to do but follow your doctor's orders and show up to your procedure on time. Here's what you can expect in the immediate moments before, during, and after your operation.

Patient connecting with nurse before surgery

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Before the Surgery

The majority of the pre-surgical testing you'll need to complete will be done during the weeks and days prior to your scheduled surgery date. You'll most likely be asked to arrive at the hospital or outpatient center a few hours before your procedure to tie up any loose ends.

Arriving early allows some time to change into your hospital gown, complete last-minute paperwork, ask questions, and have your vital signs checked (such as blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen level). You'll be asked about any new symptoms and review your recent medications.

A local anesthetic (meaning the surgical site is numb but you're still awake) may be used for certain types of plastic surgery on the neck or other minor neck procedures. In this case, your surgeon will administer the anesthetic before beginning the operation.

If your neck surgery requires general anesthesia, an anesthesiologist will visit you first to discuss the type of medication you'll be getting and ask you to sign off on the paperwork. You may need to be placed on a breathing tube for the time that you're sedated. Removal of the breathing tube can cause a sore throat in the few days following your surgery.

You won't be allowed to eat or drink anything once you're admitted to the hospital for neck surgery. Any required medications and fluids will be administered through an IV. If you're having general anesthesia, there will be stricter requirements including no food or drink at least 24 hours before you go to the hospital.

Be sure to follow your doctor's pre-operative instructions to avoid any unexpected delays in your ability to get neck surgery as scheduled.

During the Surgery

If you are having a cosmetic neck procedure, your surgeon may offer either intravenous sedation or general anesthesia. Depending on your medical history, personal preferences, and the type of procedure you're getting done, your doctor will recommend the best course of pain management. You should be made aware of the plan prior to your surgery day, so you'll know what to expect when you arrive for your appointment.

For a less-invasive alternative to a traditional neck lift, your doctor may perform a limited incision neck lift. In a limited incision neck lift, the cuts are shorter and placed near the ears only. If you're aiming for more dramatic results, a traditional neck lift will be recommended.

In a traditional neck lift, a larger incision is placed starting along the hairline near the sideburns, traveling around the ear, and ending somewhere along the hairline in the back of the head. After repositioning the underlying tissue and tightening the muscle, excess neck skin is removed and reattached with sutures and adhesives. A secondary cut underneath the chin allows the surgeon to do additional muscle tightening and liposuction if needed.

Spinal surgeries that are intended to alleviate nerve compression, remove bone spurs, or replace problematic discs can be performed posteriorly (from the back of the neck) or anteriorly (from the front of the neck). These types of operations are invasive and will require general anesthesia.

Based on your individual anatomy, your surgeon may use a bone graft to stabilize the area after removing a disc or bone spur. The surgical removal of spinal tissue can help clear out additional space for pinched nerves. Your surgeon may choose to insert a prosthetic disc or implant to improve pain and your range of motion.

To remove tumors associated with head and neck cancers, surgical techniques may vary. A surgical oncologist is a specialist who will advise you on the best course of treatment and the latest technology available. Early-stage cancers that haven't spread are typically treated with laser surgeries.

Your surgeon may do an excision, which removes the surrounding tissue on the margins of a tumor. For tumors that have started to spread, the lymph nodes may need to be removed from the neck as well. If a large amount of tissue is taken out, your surgeon may recommend reconstructive procedures to help restore usual functioning and appearance.

After the Surgery

Many neck surgeries do not require an overnight stay. Plastic surgery on the neck is typically performed as an outpatient procedure. Although you'll need someone else to drive you home and stay with you, you won't be required to stick around the facility for very long once the surgery is completed.

Disc replacement surgery (cervical arthroplasty) may allow for same-day discharge or a one-night stay in the hospital. Posterior discectomies can require a longer hospital stay of one or two nights. Your surgeon will determine when you're ready to be discharged depending on your self-reported pain level and your ability to move and eat.

Cancer surgery on the neck can impair the ability to swallow and breathe. A team of specialists, including a speech therapist and registered dietitian, will work with you to explain whether you'll be placed on a modified diet or if a feeding tube is required. If you have trouble breathing because of your surgery, you may need a temporary tracheostomy (an incision through the windpipe).

A Word From Verywell

The day of neck surgery can bring up a mix of emotions, including anxiety, fear, dread, or relief. It's normal to a little bit on edge when you're heading to the hospital for any type of procedure. If you start to have doubts or worries, remind yourself of the reasons why you chose to have neck surgery in the first place.

Visualizing the benefits that you stand to gain (which may range from cosmetic to life-saving) can help carry you through the pre-surgery jitters. Before you know it, you'll be waking up on the surgery table and moving forward to embark on the road to recovery.

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  4. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Head and neck cancer: types of treatment. Updated October 2019.