Expectation vs. Reality: Recovering From A Neck Lift

You’ve asked questions, looked at pictures, and read stories, but what can you really expect from the neck lift recovery process? We’ve got you covered.
Written by Leah Prinzivalli
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Expectation vs. Reality: Recovering From A Neck LiftArtem Everest/Unsplash

When considering cosmetic surgery, there is plenty of research to be done. You’ll want to look into types of procedures, quality of results, and expertise of providers (to name a few). Another facet of the procedure that’s crucial to keep in mind: downtime and recovery. Surgical procedures tend to have a longer and more involved healing process than non-surgical alternatives. So, what does that actually mean in terms of what you can expect in the days, weeks, and months after treatment?

If you are thinking about getting a neck lift, recovery involves more than just buying a big scarf – though that can be part of it! A neck lift entails anesthesia, spending at least a few days resting comfortably, and blocking out even more time to limit certain activities. Still, the procedure has one of the more lenient recovery processes, which is in part why many pair it with the more challenging facelift (the duo can also yield a more comprehensive result).

Whether you plan to focus specifically on the neck or combine it with another surgery, it’s important to know exactly what to expect when you leave the operating room. Here, top plastic surgeons offer honest insight into what it’s really like to recover from a neck lift.

The First 48 Hours After Surgery

The first few days after virtually any surgery are the most crucial from a recovery standpoint, and the same is true for a neck lift. Depending on the preference of the surgeon and patient, the procedure can be performed under general anesthesia or ‘awake.’ During an awake neck lift, a so-called conscious sedation or twilight anesthesia with regional or local anesthetics are utilized.

The type of anesthesia used will impact how you feel immediately after surgery. “If the surgery was fairly lengthy and required general anesthesia, patients may require a day or two to feel recovered from the anesthesia,” says Thuy-Van Tina Ho, MD, a double board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and founder of Tina Ho MD Facial Plastic Surgery in Philadelphia. Those lingering effects include nausea, drowsiness, and general malaise.

Because neck lifts are outpatient procedures, “patients go home the same day,” Dr. Ho shares. She typically places drains at the conclusion of the surgery and has her patients wear a head and neck compression dressing that is freshened up the next day. “I see patients the following day for drain check and dressing change,” she notes.

A neck lift can be performed to reduce skin laxity, tighten the underlying musculature, remove excess fat, or a combination of the three. Needless to say, some patients require more correction than others, and this plays a role in the healing process. Swelling and bruising in the face and neck are the two most common side effects of the surgery, and the extent of it depends, in part, on “how deep a dissection occurs,” says Michele Koo, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in St. Louis, MO. The depth “is determined by how much excess skin and fat the patient has,” she adds. Additionally, you may also have a headache that feels similar to a sinus headache.

Yes, you are going to want to take it very easy for a few days, but surgeons don’t recommend full-on bed rest. “Getting up to go to the bathroom is ok,” says Smita Ramanadham, MD, a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in New Jersey. When you are in bed, avoid laying fully horizontally. “We ask that patients sleep on two or three pillows or in a recliner, so the neck is above the heart level,” she says.

Oh, and if you’re curious about how getting a neck lift in tandem with a facelift might affect the recovery process, Dr. Ho says there is usually “not a significant difference” aside from “more swelling and bruising.”

Pain Management After Neck Lift Surgery

“Patients may require pain medication to help control their pain or discomfort,” Dr. Ho says, and your surgeon will prescribe accordingly. In her practice, Dr. Ramanadham typically offers about three days of prescription medication before her patients switch over to over-the-counter options like Tylenol.

Pain is obviously subjective, but it may encourage you to hear that, according to Dr. Koo, “there isn’t that much” of it after a neck lift. It’s common to feel pressure or a dull ache around the head and neck, and you may get hit with twinges of pain when trying to sleep on your side. But, overall, she says the level of discomfort is manageable for most people.

Believe it or not, she finds that patients often feel uncomfortable as a result of the bandages, not the surgery itself. “You can expect to have some type of compression wrap around your full head and underneath your chin,” Dr. Koo explains. “For people who might be a little claustrophobic, that might be a little intimidating.” The wrap will stay on – though your doctor may remove some padding – for the following four to five days, and you should still wear it at home for at least another two weeks. You’ll receive specific instructions from your provider on the timeline.

Resuming Normal Activities After a Neck Lift

As you’re feeling stronger and ready to resume non-strenuous activities, Dr. Koo says patients should feel comfortable doing so. “My patients will put a headwrap and scarf on and go out in two days,” she shares. “They get their Audrey Hepburn on.” That could mean a walk around the block, tidying up around the house, or any other gentle movement. Not yet on the agenda? Yoga, cardio, or anything that raises blood pressure.

Even if your recovery is relatively pain-free, you still need to be mindful of the healing process and wait for clearance before resuming certain activities. At four days, Dr. Koo tells her patients they can begin a “mall-pace” walk, and a brisk walk is usually safe at the two-week post-op mark. Dr. Ho takes a similar approach. “Two weeks for heavy lifting and strenuous activity,” she says, adding that you may return to work sooner if you’re not self-conscious about swelling and bruising or stitches. She likes to see patients one week, two weeks, and four weeks out to monitor their progress.

For more intense exercise — bootcamp, pilates, hot yoga — that results in heavy sweating or can raise blood pressure, Dr. Koo recommends waiting four to six weeks. As she explains, non-compliance can “stir up more swelling” and lead to the possibility of “more scar tissue.” Her advice: “It’s just best to wait.”

Final Neck Lift Result

When it comes to recovering from a neck lift, Dr. Ho says you can think about the healing process in phases. The first two to four weeks are the “immediate recovery” period, yet it takes six to 12 months to enjoy the final results. “It takes time for the skin to relax, for all of the swelling to be gone, and for the scars to mature and fade,” Dr. Ramanadham notes.

Still, you will be able to see progress early on. “Even after four days when you take the wrap off, the neck looks amazing,” Dr. Koo shares. It will, however, be another four to six weeks until you are, as she describes it, “photo-ready.” Depending on their healing progress, Dr. Ho says likes to see her patients every one to three months for the first year. After six months, Dr. Ramanadham tells her patients that their results are “80 to 85 percent” finalized. After a year, the final result is in.

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LEAH PRINZIVALLIis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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