Neck Surgery: Recovery

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Once your neck surgery is complete, it's time to tackle the road to recovery. Depending on how invasive your procedure was, the initial recovery phase can be mentally, emotionally, and physically challenging. With proper support and preparation, you can push through this difficult time to start reaping the rewards of your procedure. Here's how the weeks and months after neck surgery are likely to play out.

Patient having neck adjustment

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Surgery Follow-Up

After discharge, your surgeon will probably want to see you back in the office within a few days to evaluate your body's early recovery process and check for signs of infection. Because the prognosis after neck surgery varies widely depending on your individual circumstances, your doctor will give you instructions on when to follow-up.

If you experience a medical emergency at any point during your neck surgery recovery, call 911, or your doctor for immediate help.

Neck lifts generally don't require additional surgeries unless you're unhappy with the final result. This won't be apparent until at least six months after your procedure. Follow-up appointments are used to evaluate bruising, swelling, comfort level, and to document your results.

It's not unusual for cancer patients to require additional treatments following neck surgery. Surgery is usually the first-line of treatment, sometimes followed by radiation or chemotherapy.

For patients undergoing neck surgery on the spine, physical therapy is common. Although rest is essential and strenuous activity should be avoided, therapeutic exercise can prevent your neck from seizing up and aid in the recovery process.

Recovery Timeline

During the first few weeks of recovery after a neck lift, swelling, bruising, numbness, tingling, and tightness are normal. If you notice discharge near your incisions, or you develop a fever, it's crucial to call your surgeon right away as these are common signs of infection.

For the first five to seven days, wearing a compression bandage can help keep swelling down. You should be able to return to work within one to two weeks. Wait at least three weeks after a neck lift to resume physical activity.

Expect to commit to a longer recovery time if you're having cervical neck surgery. You may be prohibited from driving for two weeks after your procedure and unable to lift objects heavier than eight pounds until your body has some time to heal. Here's how long you can expect to wait before getting back to full activity after the following spinal procedures:

  • Anterior cervical discectomy: Three to six months (or the amount of time it takes for the successful fusion of the bone graft)
  • Cervical arthroplasty: One to two weeks to resume light work and six weeks for regular activity
  • Posterior cervical discectomy and foraminotomy: Four to six weeks for light activity and two to three months for complete healing

With neck surgery to treat cancer, the recovery timeline can vary greatly from patient to patient. Factors impacting recovery include the amount of tissue that's removed, the patient's overall health, and whether reconstructive or other follow-up surgeries and treatments are needed.

Your oncologist should be able to provide you with an estimate on when you can expect to return to work and resume physical activity.

Coping With Recovery

There is always going to be some level of pain associated with neck surgery. It takes time to heal and the process isn't always easy. You may be anxious about how to properly care for your wounds. New limitations in mobility due to neck tightness or soreness can be frustrating and lead to temporary feelings of depression.

If you're struggling with how to cope after neck surgery, don't be afraid to seek professional help. Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health counselor or social worker who can offer you tips and resources as you heal.

Surgery isn't just a physical transformation, it often takes an emotional toll as well. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the preparations before surgery that it's not until we slow down during recovery that we have the chance to process our feelings.

Always take your pain medications as prescribed. Contact your doctor if you are dealing with extreme discomfort or pain after surgery.

Eating nutritiously, staying hydrated, and maintaining the recommended level of daily movement are essential steps to ensure proper healing. Stock your pantry with enough food before your surgery so you don't need to grocery shop right away, and you have healthy options readily available.

Since you won't be able to drive right away and may have difficulty getting things done around the house, enlist a family or friend to check on you and assist during the days and weeks after your procedure. Plan ahead with entertaining activities like books, movies, and games. If possible, connect with someone who has gone through a similar procedure and understands what you're going through.

Wound Care

Cosmetic neck lifts either include sutures that dissolve on their own, or stitches that need to be removed. You may be sent home with drains to help reduce the extra blood and fluid build-up after a neck lift. Keep your head elevated above your heart to minimize swelling.

As your wounds heal, it's best to wear loose clothing that can be zipped or buttoned up so you don't have to pull anything over your head. Applying ice to your neck after a neck lift is not recommended, as the cold slows down blood flow and can lead to skin death.

With any form of neck surgery, there may be limitations on showering when you first arrive back home. Keeping the site of your incisions clean and dry is essential for proper healing. A short sponge bath might be permitted, but avoid submerging your incisions in water by staying out of the bath or pools until your wounds have had enough time to fully close up.

A Word From Verywell

The initial recovery time after neck surgery is usually the hardest part of the process. Taking each day one at a time will bring you closer and closer to easier days ahead. It's not unusual to become frustrated or find yourself feeling down about the pain and restrictions associated with surgery recovery. Do your best to remember that these moments are temporary. Remain patient and reach out for support if you're struggling to manage on your own.

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