Neck Lift Recovery

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Neck lifts can reverse the hands of time, but what does it take to get there? From the moment the surgeon closes the last incision to the day you’re finally healed, we’ve got all the details on the recovery process.

The Skinny

Neck lifts. You might not know a lot about them, but you’ve probably heard of them or seen some before and after photos. Let’s run through some quick basics. A neck lift, or lower rhytidectomy, is a procedure performed by a board certified plastic surgeon to reduce the skin laxity of the neck tissues, tighten the muscular tone, lessen fat deposits, and create a defined jawline.

There are several variations of neck lifts. A platysmaplasty alters the platysma muscle of the neck. A cervicoplasty only addresses excess skin and excess fat. A direct neck lift combines both of these procedures for a total rejuvenation. Depending on the candidate and the cosmetic surgeon, these surgical procedures may be able to be performed ‘awake’ — meaning no general anesthesia is used (only local anesthesia). Also of note, many candidates elect to combine neck lifts with other facial plastic surgery procedures such as a brow lift, eyelid surgery, or facelift.

The Specifics

What to Expect During Neck Lift Recovery

So, what’s it actually like to create your dream neck aesthetic? All candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this cosmetic procedure. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and how your body naturally heals, one to two weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be looking your best.

Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia, if that is a component of your procedure. Many people feel nausea, drowsiness, and slightly disoriented in the hours following anesthesia. These side effects typically resolve quickly, as the sedating medications wear off. Even so, it is a part of the immediate post-surgical recovery.

The Ultimate Neck Lift Recovery Timeline

Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of the neck lift recovery period. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to possibly minimize the intensity of your post-op experience and then we’ll look at what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, months, and, yes, even years.

It should also be noted that a surgeon should provide pre- and post-op detailed instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical team. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.

  • Pre-Op

    • Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
    • Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), and any other medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments). Check out our complete guide to recovering from cosmetic procedures in comfort and style to learn more.

  • Immediately Post-Op

    • Depending on how you react to anesthesia, you may feel drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. Even those of us lucky enough to tolerate anesthesia well should expect to feel sore and swollen. Your throat and mouth will be dry, your face and neck will feel numb and tingly, your shoulders and upper back may feel tight, and you might have a bit of a tension headache. These immediate side effects should wear off within a few hours.
    • Remember that part of your general anesthesia is usually stronger pain medications that will have you waking up with numbness but not sharp pain. As these medicines get worked out of your system, you should expect to feel a more intense (but not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medicines are most appropriate for you post-op.

  • Day 1

    • So, you hopefully got some sleep without putting too much pressure on your neck and shoulder… so basically sitting up (the right pillow can help with that). You ideally kept an ice pack and your pain or inflammation meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also for keeping inflammation down. This promotes faster recovery.
    • You’re probably feeling soreness and discomfort in your shoulder, neck, jaw, upper back, face, and scalp. You may also feel some discomfort in your throat and you’ll be sporting some bruises.
    • Hopefully your appetite is ok and you can tolerate some soft foods. Some people may find chewing uncomfortable, but cold foods, like ice cream, can make your mouth numb, which may be helpful. Make sure to drink plenty of water!
    • Also, it’s not unusual to have some bleeding from your incisions. Remember that your body is working hard to heal your wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates a lot of inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.
    • Remember to always keep your head elevated!

  • Day 2 to Day 7

    • Each day, the pain, swelling, and bruising will progressively improve.
    • If you had bandages or sutures placed during the procedure, they will usually get removed somewhere between day five and day seven.
    • During this first week, don’t expect to go to work or be doing anything strenuous. This is the time to binge watch TV, finally organize your inbox, or learn a new language… whatever works for you.

  • Week 2

    • Ok, so now you can probably start thinking about getting back to some normal activities. If you need to travel home from your procedure, it’s now safe to get on a plane. You can get creative with your makeup and clothing routine and think about heading out for some errands or back to the office.
    • It’s important to note that more invasive procedure candidates may spend week two recovering in a manner similar to week one. This will vary by individual. By the end of the two weeks, however, all candidates can expect to be out of the house again.

  • Week 3 to Week 12

    • For most candidates, it’s safe to get that blood pressure up again. Your doctor will give you specific instructions, but, by week three or four, you can generally resume more strenuous activities and exercise and slowly ramp up the intensity over a few days as tolerated. Keep in mind, exercise at this time will most likely cause swelling to go up again, but this should go back down within a few hours.
    • It’s worth repeating that during this entire time swelling will continue to go down and it is important to protect your head and neck from trauma. Save playing catch for a while.

  • 6 months to 1 Year

    • Swelling will become considerably less noticeable and there’s not much to do during this time other than be mindful of keeping your head and neck protected from trauma and to continue to take general precautions to minimize swelling.

  • 12 to 18 months

    • By the one-year post-op mark, most neck lift patients see their final results now that skin, soft tissue, and muscle has healed and swelling has resolved. Depending on the patient, this process could take up to 36 months.

Tips to Improve Your Neck Lift Recovery

Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with a neck lift surgery, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your healing journey as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Like we mentioned, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are definitely some universal truths that augment healing.

1. Be Mindful & Be Patient

We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.

2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated

This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your neck (and your entire being) will thank you for it.

Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off after a major surgery.

3. Elevate & Ice

Cold compresses and keeping your head up (literally and metaphorically) will lessen blood flow to the area and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your surgical sites. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow.

4. Moderate Your Activities

This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, three weeks after your neck lift is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the months following a major surgery.

Other activities to avoid or limit: carrying heavy backpacks, sun bathing, and watching a tennis match (you know, to avoid turning your head back and forth repeatedly).

Neck Lift Side Effects & Complications

So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a neck lift procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every neck lift patient should expect at least one to two weeks of bruising and at least four to six weeks of noticeable swelling. Neck, shoulder, and upper back tightness, achiness, and headaches are all common side effects that will resolve within a week or two and can be mitigated with medications.

While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the neck tissues are a possible complication of a neck lift and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain, asymmetry, and scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.

The Takeaway

The healing process following a facial plastic cosmetic surgery can seem intimidating. And while we are not minimizing the fact that a neck lift is a major surgery with considerable risks and side effects, thousands of neck lifts are safely performed successfully in the United States each year with patients enjoying life-changing results. Never underestimate the value of a consultation with a plastic surgeon to more specifically determine what your unique neck lift experience will entail.
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Source List


AEDIT uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Bhupendra C. Patel; Michael J. Lopez; Zachary P. Joos. Anatomy, Head and Neck, Eyelash; 2020-07-27
  2. Emil J Kohan Anatomy of the neck; 2014-01-01
  3. Jonathan M Sykes Rejuvenation of the Aging Neck

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