Craniotomy: Planning and Preparation for Surgery,
Discharge and Home Care
What is a craniotomy?
In general, it is making an opening in the
skull so the neurosurgery has access to fix
(such as an aneurysm) or take out (such as a
brain tumor) or put something in (such as a
After the Surgery
You will remain in the recovery room one to
two hours until fully awake, at which time you
will be taken to either NSICU or a room on
D6/4. Most often, your stay will be about 2
days. During this time, nurses and doctors will
be checking your arm and leg strength, pupil
size, and level of alertness. They will be
keeping track of the amount of fluid you drink
and excrete. You will have an IV in an arm
vein until able to take enough fluid by mouth,
and leg wraps to prevent clots forming in the
You may feel more pressure in the head or
have a headache. Pain medicine will be
ordered and ready if this occurs.
You will be asked to get out of bed the same
day or the day after, and to slowly increase
your activity in order to be walking in the
halls before discharge. Walking is the best
You will be offered clear liquids first,
returning slowly to a normal diet as you are
able to take solid food.
Walk often. It is best to increase your
endurance by taking short walks frequently.
Someone should walk with you if it is
recommended. You may simply walk laps
around a kitchen table, or up and down a
hallway in your home. It is very important to
move frequently, gradually increasing as you
It is more important to take frequent short
walks than to spend your energy on household
chores. After arriving home, friends/family
will need to take care of household chores.
Gradually increase the amount you do, slowly
over time. Be aware of safety risks caused by
being over tired, healing from surgery, and
possible memory problems.
Until seen by your doctor at your follow-up
visit, you should avoid heavy lifting, sports,
running, etc. Do not use heavy or high-speed
machinery. No ladder or high places. No
swimming or tub baths.
Do not drive until your doctor says it is okay..
Avoid flying for 2 – 4 weeks. If you plan air
travel within six weeks, you should discuss it
with your doctor.
You and your doctor will discuss when you
are ready to return to work. Most people will
need approximately 4-6 weeks to recover. You
may need a longer or shorter time based on
why you had surgery, how you are feeling and
the type of job you do.
After you arrive home, eat more frequent,
smaller meals. Please be sure you are eating
adequate protein – such as yogurt, eggs,
cottage cheese. Protein is important for wound
Increase your fiber intake. Drink plenty of
fluids, unless told to do otherwise by your
doctor. Walk and be as active as you are able
within your restrictions. If you do have
problems, you may use a stool softener,
laxative, or Fleets® enema which can be
Please follow the instructions in your
discharge packet for incision care. When it is
OK to get your incision wet, please use a mild
shampoo such as baby shampoo. Avoid using
a conditioner, dandruff shampoo, or any
combined shampoo/conditioner products for 3
months. These products can slow healing by
causing a build-up of dry skin.
If you can’t shower, clean the incision daily
with mild soap and water. The incision should
be kept clean. Generally, it will have no, or
very little scabbing.
You may have numbness, itching, and scabs at
the incision site. This is normal. It may take a
number of months for the numbness to go
Look at your incision daily. Keep it clean and
dry. Do not rub the incision. Pat dry. Do not
apply creams. Call your doctor if you notice
any signs of infection. These could include:
ξ Increased redness, swelling.
ξ Marked increase in pain.
ξ Fever greater than 100ºF
After your sutures are removed, you should
still avoid dandruff shampoo and conditioners
for 3 months. Avoid use of permanent curling
solutions and hair dyes for 3 months. Protect
the area from sun and cold.
As your pain improves, you will need to
decrease the amount of narcotic pain
medicines you take. Your discharge
medications include other medications that
you may take for postoperative pain.
If you are still having severe or increasing
headaches, call the Neurosurgery clinic at the
Reasons to Call Your Doctor
ξ Severe or increasing headaches
ξ Changes in your vision
ξ Continued nausea or vomiting
ξ Increased sleepiness
ξ Change in behavior
ξ Problems with walking or balance
Any drainage from your incision or any signs
of infection, as listed above
Some incisions have sutures that will dissolve
on their own. These make look like clear
fishing line. They will fall out gradually, and
may take 2-3 weeks. This incision requires the
same care as described above.
If you have any questions or concerns once
you are home, please call the Neurosurgery
clinic. The clinic is open Monday – Friday
8:00am-5:00pm. The phone number is
After hours, this phone number will reach the
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 7/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF#4452.