After Your Surgery

Hospital Stay

You will wake up in a recovery room. When your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are normal, you will be taken to a regular hospital room. If you have other medical problems, you may spend the night in the Intermediate Care Unit for closer monitoring.

Pain can be controlled with medicine. Occasionally swallowing may be a little difficult. You will be started on a liquid diet and advanced to solid foods as tolerated.

Most people are able to go home in one or two days. On rare occasions, a patient may need to stay longer in the hospital.

Drains: If you had a central neck dissection and have a drain coming out of your neck, it will likely be removed before you are discharged. If you had a lateral neck dissection, your drains will remain in place until you are seen in clinic for a follow-up. You will be instructed how to care for the drains and to record the amount of drainage. As healing takes place, the fluid drainage decreases to a low level. The drain is kept in place until this minimal level is reached so that fluid does not accumulate in the neck.


Home Care

  • You will feel tired for several days. You can engage in as much activity as you feel up to.
  • You will have some swelling in the neck and possibly in the upper chest.
  • You may shower 24 hours after your surgery.
  • You may remove the dressing 3 days after your surgery.
  • Driving can be resumed when you feel comfortable turning your head to look over the shoulder and no longer need pain medications.
  • You may return to work when you feel up to it. Most patients need 2-3 weeks off work.


Postoperative Instructions

  • When you return home from the hospital, call 303-724-2728 to schedule your follow-up appointment.
  • Start with a liquid diet, then advance to regular food as tolerated.
  • A mild fever is normal and may persist for a day or so. If your fever gets higher than 101˚ F, call our office (303-724-2728).
  • For mild pain, you may take Tylenol or other over-the-counter pain medications. Take prescribed pain medication only if needed. Use other medications as directed.
  • Your physical activity is in no way restricted. You should actively rotate your head from side to side and up and down to prevent stiffness. If you have pain and discomfort when engaging in a particular activity, you are probably trying to do too much. If you do not have pain or discomfort, feel free to do as much as you want.
  • If you have difficulty with bowel movements, you may take any laxative (such as Milk of Magnesia) twice a day until you have a bowel movement.
  • If you have had a central neck dissection, your blood calcium level will be monitored while you are recovering from surgery in the hospital. Starting the day after surgery, you will need to take a calcium supplement, calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. The usual dose is 500 mg three times a day (i.e., a total of 1,500 mg per day).


Home Exercises

In order to avoid stiffness in the neck and shoulder, exercises can be started 2-3 times per day as soon as the day after surgery. The recommended stretches are depicted below.


Post Surgery Exercises

This information is provided by the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.