Craniotomy: What to Expect at Home

Skip to the navigation

Your Recovery

A craniotomy is surgery to open your skull to fix a problem in your brain. It can be done for many reasons. For example, you may need a craniotomy if your brain or blood vessels are damaged or if you have a tumour or an infection in your brain.

You will probably feel very tired for several weeks after surgery. You may also have headaches or problems concentrating. It can take 4 to 8 weeks to recover from surgery.

Your cuts (incisions) may be sore for about 5 days after surgery. You may also have numbness and shooting pains near your wound, or swelling and bruising around your eyes. As your wound starts to heal, it may begin to itch. Medicines and ice packs can help with headaches, pain, swelling, and itching.

The stitches that hold your incisions together may go away on their own or will be removed in 7 to 10 days. This depends on the type of stitches the doctor uses.

It is common for your scalp to swell with fluid. After the swelling goes down, you may have a dent in your head.

Some kinds of plates stay attached to hold the skull flap to your head. If your head was shaved, you may want to wear hats or scarves on your head until your hair grows back. Or, it may not bother you.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. It is normal to want to sleep during the day. It is a good idea to plan to take a nap every day. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try not to lie flat when you rest or sleep. You can use a wedge pillow, or you can put a rolled towel or foam padding under your pillow. You can also raise the head of your bed by putting bricks or wooden blocks under the bed legs.
  • After lying down, bring your head up slowly. This can prevent headaches or dizziness.
  • You can wash your hair 2 to 3 days after your surgery. But do not soak your head or swim for 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Do not dye or colour your hair for 4 weeks after your surgery.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid heavy lifting until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not drive for 2 to 3 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay. When you begin driving again, start with short, familiar routes in the daytime.
  • Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to travel by plane.

Diet

  • You can eat your normal diet. If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Follow your doctor's orders about how much fluid you should drink after surgery.
  • Do not drink alcohol until your doctor says it is okay.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Try to avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If you think your pain medicine is making you sick to your stomach:
    • Take your medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • If you get medicines to prevent seizures, take them exactly as directed.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incisions, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
  • Keep the area clean and dry. Change the bandage every 2 days, or if it gets wet or soiled.
  • After your doctor says it is okay to shower or bathe, gently wash the surgery area with warm, soapy water and pat it dry.

Exercise

  • Avoid risky activities, such as climbing a ladder, for 3 months after surgery.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, for 3 months or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Do not play any rough or contact sports for 3 months or until your doctor says it is okay.

Ice

  • For the first 1 or 2 days, you can use ice to reduce pain, swelling, and itching. Put ice or a cold pack on your head for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • It is hard to think, move, speak, or see.
  • Your body is jerking or shaking.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You have a fever with a stiff neck or a severe headache.
  • Your incision comes open.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.
  • You have any sudden vision changes.
  • You have new or worse headaches.
  • You fall and hit your head.
  • You are sleeping more than you are awake.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have a fever over 38°C.
  • You have a headache and you throw up.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter I325 in the search box to learn more about "Craniotomy: What to Expect at Home."

Current as of: June 4, 2016