Purpose of Neck Surgery

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The idea of getting neck surgery can be scary. However, neck surgeons today are highly-specialized and have access to the most innovative medical technology of all time. Depending on your reason for having neck surgery, the procedure could vastly improve your quality of life. Here's some background on the various forms of neck surgery available and why you may want to consider meeting with a surgeon.

Surgeon reviews neck X-ray

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Diagnosis Related to Neck Surgery

There are two general types of neck surgery—cosmetic surgeries and those intended to address an underlying medical condition of the neck or upper spine. Plastic surgery on the neck is an elective procedure that's much less invasive than spinal surgery or cancer removal.

Individuals who opt for cosmetic neck surgery are typically looking to tighten loose skin to achieve a more youthful appearance. This is known as a lower rhytidectomy. Your surgeon may remove fatty deposits from the lower face and under the chin (using liposuction) and relax muscle banding in the neck to get the final results you want.

Instead of jumping into a neck lift (which involves skin removal), patients may opt for first-line options such as tightening creams, laser treatments, injectables (like botox or fillers), or neck exercises intended to improve the neck's appearance. If these efforts don't produce the desired effect, a more drastic plastic surgery procedure on the neck can help create noticeable and lasting results.

Health insurance carriers are more likely to cover neck surgeries that correct a medical condition rather than a cosmetic concern. Speak to your insurance provider before scheduling surgery to understand what your out-of-pocket expenses will be.

Reasons to have spinal neck surgery include arthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer. Chronic neck pain and numbness are often the main drivers that prompt people to seek medical care.

These symptoms may be the result of herniated discs, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease. Pinched nerves, spinal compression, or brittle discs that grind together may all be addressed through neck surgery.

Before opting for surgery, patients may try less invasive pain management methods, such as physical therapy, medication, acupuncture, or even chiropractic adjustments. However, many neck issues cannot be sufficiently remedied through these methods alone. Oftentimes, surgery is the most effective way to treat the underlying causes of severe neck pain.

To treat neck cancer, surgery may be combined with additional treatment options like radiation, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Before performing a surgical procedure, your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and risk factors to determine whether cancer is responsible for the mass or if there's another medical condition that needs to be addressed.

Criteria

As with any surgical procedure, individuals in good health standing prior to surgery have a lower risk of complications and a higher chance of a speedy recovery. Some of the criteria for ideal neck surgery patients include those who:

  • Are younger vs. older
  • Don't have underlying health conditions
  • Don't smoke
  • Live an active lifestyle
  • Limit or avoid alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight

While some of these characteristics are easily modified, you can't change your age and underlying health conditions. It's rare for younger people to require neck surgery so older patients are not unusual. If your ability to be physically active is limited by issues with your neck, surgery may be the first step to a healthier lifestyle.

Neck Contouring Procedures

For plastic surgery on the neck, your doctor may recommend various techniques to achieve your desired outcome. Patients with good skin elasticity (generally younger patients who are under age 50) are more likely to benefit from liposuction because the skin is able to naturally tighten up again after the procedure.

People with sagging or sun-damaged skin tend to benefit more from a traditional neck lift. Here, the surgeon makes incisions to tighten the underlying muscles and permanently remove excess skin. Patients may choose to combine this procedure with a facelift or other cosmetic procedures (like a chin augmentation or nose job).

Identifying Neck Cancer

To evaluate masses in the neck, a few specific criteria can help your doctor narrow down the likelihood of cancer. Patients with a history of upper respiratory infections who have a tender neck mass may be experiencing lymphadenitis or inflammation of the lymph nodes.

A non-tender neck mass that has lasted for more than two weeks is more likely to be a form of neck cancer or an early sign of Hodgkin lymphoma. A history of tobacco and alcohol use, high-risk HPV, and middle-age are associated with a higher rate of neck cancer. Patients with neck cancer may also have persistent mouth pain and hoarseness to their voice.

If you feel a mass in your neck, make an appointment with your primary care doctor for an initial evaluation. Along with the possibility of a non-cancerous tumor, you may be dealing with swollen glands or thyroid issues. Don't jump to conclusions before getting a professional opinion.

Tests and Labs

The testing and labs required before neck surgery may vary widely based on your surgeon's preferences, your medical history, and the type of neck surgery you're going to have done. Most pre-operative testing is intended to determine your risk of complications under anesthesia.

Along with a routine physical, you may be required to complete the following labs:

  • Coagulation test: Determines how quickly your blood clots.
  • Complete blood count: Checks for signs of anemia, infection, or other conditions.
  • Electrolyte levels: Evaluates your body's balance of sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes that affect heart function.
  • Glucose test: Measures your blood sugar control.

Your surgeon may also have you undergo a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG), or urinalysis to evaluate your heart and kidney function before surgery.

If you're having neck surgery to remove a tumor, your doctor will perform an ultrasound of the neck to help evaluate the size and location of the mass. To rule out an abscess or infection, antibiotic treatment or fluid drainage may be recommended to determine if surgical removal is appropriate.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you have debilitating neck pain or you'd simply like to alter your appearance, neck surgery can be a life-changing experience. Seek the counsel of a qualified surgeon to determine your potential risk and benefit of surgery.

There's no reason to endure a lifelong issue when help is available. Get the information you need to take back control of your health and well-being by getting a referral from your primary care doctor and reaching out to schedule a consultation.

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Article Sources
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  2. LaRocca S. Cervical neck surgery recovery guide: 5 tips to speed up time it takes to heal. New Jersey Neck & Back Institute, P.C. September 3, 2020.

  3. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Head and neck cancer: Types of treatment. Updated October 2019.

  4. American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Neck contouring guide.

  5. University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health. Evaluation of head and neck masses. Updated November 9, 2017.

  6. John Hopkin's Medicine. Tests done before surgery.