Brain Surgery Recovery

Brain surgery can happen to anyone. It involves opening up the skull and performing surgery for things like brain infections, brain tumors, epilepsy, problems with the tissues overlying the brain, aneurysms, skull fractures, and nerve abnormalities of the brain. While having surgery on the brain can be daunting, you need to think not just about the surgery but the brain surgery recovery. These are some things you need to think about when you are recovering from brain surgery.

What to Do During Brain Surgery Recovery

The time it takes to heal from a brain surgery depends on several factors, including the type of procedure done, the area of the brain that was worked on, the patient's overall health and the patient's age. During the recovery period, the patient may experience some of the following things and may need some help in order to recover.

Right After Brain Surgery

After surgery, most patients spend time in the intensive care unit for careful monitoring of their vital signs and brain function by the hospitalist, the neurosurgeon and the ICU staff. They will try to determine if there are any mental deficits or surgical complications. If no complications occur, the patient gets to be moved to a hospital room on the regular floor after about a day. Many patients see physical therapy, occupational therapy, and sometimes speech therapy as part of their brain surgery recovery. The assessment by these professionals determines whether or not the patient needs extra help to recover function before they get discharged from the hospital.

After Going Home

When you get home, you need to take care of things like surgical scar itching, head pain, and numbness near the incision site. You might be able to hear a clicking noise, which indicates that the bones are knitting together after the surgery. This process will eventually lead to complete healing of the skull after about 6-12 months.

There will be some edema beneath the incision site. It will be more noticeable when you first get up in the morning and will get better as you are upright. You may also experience headaches, especially when you breathe deeply, cough, or are very active. Fortunately, this won't last that long.


Medications: You will likely have medications prescribed for you when you get out of the hospital. They are important for your brain surgery recovery. Take whatever antibiotics are prescribed and take medications for seizure prevention, if necessary. Your neurosurgeon or neurologist will be able to tell you exactly how long these medications will be necessary. Read the prescription labels and follow the directions carefully. If your doctor recommends pain relievers, take those as recommended. These might include ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, and other over the counter pain relievers. Some may cause extra bleeding problems so you should talk to your doctor about which ones to take.

Wound care: Make sure that the incision is always clean and dry during your recovery. For that, you should:

  • Wear a shower cap over your head during the shower or bath until the sutures or staples are removed.
  • Wash the incision carefully with mild soap and water, rinse with clean water and allow it to pat dry.
  • Change any dressings you may have if they happen to get dirty or wet.
  • Not wear any kind of wig for 3-4 weeks. You can wear a hat or turban loosely fitted around your head.
  • Not wear any hair products in your hair, including permanent solution, straighteners, or colorants. Don't put any lotions or creams near the site of the incision.
  • Put an ice pack with a towel to protect your skin in order to lessen the pain and swelling. You shouldn't ever sleep on one, though.
  • Sleep using several pillows under your head in order to lessen the swelling.

For the diet: Your diet is just as important to your recovery as anything else you do. You need to get good nutrients in order to promote healing of the brain and the incision site. This means eating a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, dairy products, grains, and protein. You need a lot of calories and increased calcium in order for the bones and your brain to heal. Try drinking low fat milk and eating low fat yogurt because these contain dairy proteins and the calcium your body needs for brain surgery recovery.

Some foods are especially good for recovery from brain surgery and you need food from all food groups.

  • Foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids help enhance thinking, brain plasticity and recovery of the nerve cells after brain surgery. Some excellent sources of omega 3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, salmon, tuna, walnuts, soy oil, and halibut.
  • You need a lot of vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant to protect your brain from the effects of oxygen free radicals that can limit the healing of the brain. Vitamin E is also good for brain performance and will help you heal faster. Some good sources of vitamin E include spinach, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, kiwi, and broccoli.

Incorporate these into your diet while you are recovering from brain surgery and make sure you seek the advice of your physician or a nutritionist about what the best things to eat are.

For the normal activities and exercisesYou should gradually increase the level of your activity. You may need at least three weeks to gain enough energy back to begin exercising. Here are some tips:

  • Begin with a walking program.
  • Always make use of hand railings if you are going up or down stairs.
  • Never lift anything greater than 20 pounds in the first couple of months.
  • Crouch down when you are picking up something from the ground and don't bend at your waist. This will increase the pressure inside your head.
  • Get plenty of rest. This means sleeping longer at night and taking naps during the daytime.
  • Find out from the neurosurgeon about when it is okay to have sex or go back to driving your car.

When to Call the Doctor or 911

You should call 911 immediately if you experience any of these problems:

  • Difficulty in catching your breath.
  • Have a new-onset seizure.
  • Have a type of seizure you haven't experienced before.

You should contact the doctor if you experience any of these problems during brain surgery recovery:

  • You cannot urinate.
  • You cannot control your bowel movements or urination.
  • You have problems with your memory or become confused.
  • You suffer from mood or behavior changes.
  • You cannot walk or have weak feelings in your legs or arms.
  • You suffer from hallucinations.
  • You are blind or deaf suddenly.
  • You suffer from nausea or vomiting.
  • You are difficult to awaken or are very tired.
  • You are experiencing worsened or more often headaches.
  • You have paresthesias of your extremities or face.
  • You have a seizure or faint.
  • You have problems in speaking.
  • You have light insensitivity along with a stiff neck and a high fever of greater than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • You develop a calf that is painful or swollen in the back. 
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