Brain surgery recovery involves a hospital stay, follow-up monitoring, and rehabilitation. Your type of procedure will affect what to expect for each of these stages, as well as risks to be aware of.

There are a variety of reasons that you may need brain surgery. Some examples include removing a brain tumor, repairing an aneurysm, or addressing a severe head injury.

If you’re having brain surgery, you may be curious about what happens afterward. Below, we’ll cover what to expect both immediately following your surgery and when you go home, as well as tips for recovery.

Types of brain surgery

There are several different types of brain surgery. Some examples include:

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When your operation is complete, you’ll be taken to the recovery room in the hospital. Depending on the type and circumstances of your surgery, you may also be in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital.

Hospital staff will closely monitor your vital signs. They’ll also periodically check your neurological status. This can involve things like testing how your pupils react to light or assessing your reflexes.

Tubes, drips, and drains

If a breathing tube was in place during your surgery, that will be removed. This can make your throat feel temporarily sore or scratchy.

You’ll also have some drips and drains in place. These are used to help give you medications and fluids as well as to drain bodily fluids. They’ll gradually be removed when you no longer need them.

Your surgical dressing

A bandage may be wrapped around your head. You’ll need to wear this for at least a few days. Hospital staff will check your surgical wound periodically to make sure it’s healing well and that there are no signs of infection.

How you’ll feel

Right after your surgery, you can have swelling or bruising around your face or eyes. This will gradually go away over time.

It’s also common to have some pain, particularly headaches, and nausea in the time after your surgery. The hospital staff will give you medications to help manage these symptoms.

The strong pain medications that are typically used right after surgery can sometimes lead to constipation. As such, you may also be given laxatives to help.


In the days after your surgery, imaging tests like a CT scan or MRI scan are done. These can help your surgeon check on the surgical site and make sure that there’s no complications, such as bleeding.

Hospital stay

The length of time that you stay in the hospital depends on the type of procedure that you had and your recovery progress. Your surgeon can give you a general idea of what to expect before your surgery.

Less invasive procedures may have a shorter stay, while longer, more involved procedures may need a longer hospital stay.

As an example, the American Cancer Society notes that people having surgery to remove a brain tumor may need to stay at the hospital for 4–6 days.

When you’re ready to leave the hospital, staff will give you instructions on things like:

  • how and when to take your medications, which may include:
    • medications to manage your pain
    • medications to help with constipation
  • how to care for your surgical wound
  • steps to take to prevent blood clots or infections at your surgical site
  • the types of activities you are and aren’t permitted to do

Your surgeon will want to check on your recovery periodically. You’ll typically have postoperative checkups in the weeks and months after your surgery. These may include neurological or imaging tests.

Many people who have brain surgery will also need some form of rehabilitation. This can include working with one or more of the following professionals:

How long it takes to fully recover from brain surgery can vary by individual and the type of procedure you had. Generally speaking, recovery can take 4–12 weeks. But for some people, their recovery period may be longer.

Some of the more common complications shortly after brain surgery include things like:

But there are also some more serious complications that can happen with brain surgery. These include:

When to call 911

Call 911 or local emergency services if you experience any of the following as you’re recovering from brain surgery:

  • symptoms of infection, such as:
    • a surgical wound that becomes red, swollen, or warm to the touch
    • nausea or vomiting that gets noticeably worse or more frequent
  • symptoms of a serious blood clot like:
    • skin that’s red, swollen, or painful, especially in your leg
  • severe headache
  • intense drowsiness, such as trouble staying awake or difficulty waking up
  • seizures
  • weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
  • trouble with walking or moving around
  • difficulties with speech or communication
  • sudden changes in mood, personality, or behavior
  • confusion or issues with memory
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The hospital staff will give you detailed instructions about your recovery. Be sure to follow these carefully. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions or concerns.

Additionally, follow the tips below to help promote recovery after brain surgery:

  • Ask for help: After you get home, you’ll probably need some help with various activities. It may be a good idea to arrange for a trusted family member or friend to stay at home with you during this time to help out.
  • Be active: Physical activity is beneficial for your brain health. Avoid strenuous activities and try to focus on increasing your activity levels slowly. Listen to your body and don’t overexert yourself.
  • Rest up: Quality sleep is vital for your brain health. Take steps to promote good sleep, such as:
    • setting a regular sleep schedule
    • relaxing before bed
    • making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature
  • Try to eat a healthy diet: Some specific types of diets that are associated with improved brain health include the Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and the Mediterranean-DASH (MIND) diet.
  • Avoid foods that promote inflammation: A few examples include red and processed meats, foods high in saturated or trans fats, and foods with added sugar.
  • Exercise your brain too: Try out various activities that are mentally stimulating. Depending on what you feel up to, some examples include listening to music, doing puzzles, or playing card or board games.

Brain surgery can help to address health issues that have the potential to cause significant morbidity or mortality, such as brain tumors, blood clots, and aneurysms.

Additionally, with recent advances in medical technology, brain surgery is now safer than ever. But it’s important to remember that brain surgery can come with risks.

A 2020 study of 100 adults found that 41% had some type of neurological difficulty, such as difficulties with movement or speech, after brain tumor surgery. But 3 months later, these difficulties persisted in only 6% of individuals.

Rehabilitation is also vital for the recovery of people who’ve had brain surgery. Studies have demonstrated the functional benefits of rehabilitation programs after brain surgery.

What to expect after brain surgery depends on the type of procedure you’re having. Your surgeon can give you more specific details about what to expect both immediately after your surgery and after returning home.

Brain surgery can help to manage health conditions that reduce your quality of life or that could even be life threatening. Generally speaking, it’s also safer than it’s ever been.

But brain surgery also has risks, including potentially permanent difficulties with brain function. Discuss the benefits and risks with your surgeon beforehand. They’ll be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.