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A great way to prepare for your upcoming Chiari malformation surgery is understanding what may happen at each stage of your recovery. By knowing what to expect, you can make necessary preparations ahead of time so you can focus on recovering rather than wondering what happens next.

It is important to understand that there are different types of Chiari malformation surgery, including traditional and minimally invasive procedures. Although the goal of all Chiari malformation surgical procedures is to prevent further damage from occurring and eliminate as many symptoms as possible, recovery time will vary based on procedure.

Activity restriction during your recovery from Chiari malformation surgery and rest allow your body to heal. Keep in mind that every patient is different, so your doctor’s recommendations may vary.

What to Expect Immediately Post-Op

For the first 24 hours after your procedure, you will be carefully monitored by your healthcare team for any signs of complications resulting from your surgery. You will likely remain in the intensive care unit, after which you will be transferred to a neurosurgical floor.

For traditional Chiari malformation procedures, most patients will spend 2-4 days in the hospital after surgery. The length of your stay will depend on factors like your overall health, complicating conditions, age and the specific procedure you undergo. The next step will be discharge from the hospital and recovery at home.

What to Expect the Days After Surgery

After your 2-4 day stay spent recovering in the hospital, you will be released and allowed to return home. During your early recovery, you can expect restrictions on certain activities. Some of these restrictions are put in place so your body can heal, while others may be due to pain medication you will be taking.

Common early restrictions include:

  • No lifting heavy objects
  • No bending over
  • No exercise, chores or housework
  • No driving
  • No alcohol consumption

Some of these restrictions can make daily activities difficult. Plan to have someone help you with things like shopping and cleaning. This will make your Chiari malformation surgery recovery time easier on you, allowing you to rest and heal.

What to Expect the Weeks After Surgery

As you recover, your doctor will begin to remove activity restrictions. You will gradually be able to increase what you can do under your doctor’s guidance. This can include lifting objects, exercising, housework, driving and other physical activities. Most patients can return to work 6-12 weeks after surgery, though this will vary based on your individual circumstances.

Do’s and Don’ts During Recovery

Though your doctor will give you an individually tailored list of dos and don’ts, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind during your Chiari malformation surgery recovery time.


  • Follow all your doctor’s instructions
  • Report all side effects or symptoms to your doctor
  • Ask questions any time you are confused, uncomfortable or simply curious
  • Lean on others and accept help when offered
  • Keep a positive outlook and be proud of each day’s progress
  • Approach your recovery one step at a time


  • Stop or start medications without consulting your physician
  • Violate activity restrictions, even if it seems minor
  • Hesitate to ask a question or report discomfort
  • Be afraid to ask others for assistance

Lifestyle Management After Surgery

The recovery process following your Chiari malformation surgery is going to involve some changes that are immediate and some that are more long term. What you encounter will depend on your individual condition, but there are a few changes most people will likely experience.

The first is increased visits to doctors’ offices. You may need to return shortly after your procedure to have staples or stitches removed unless your surgery did not require them. Your follow-up schedule will be created by your doctors and tailored to your individual condition.

Some patients will require physical therapy to strengthen physical abilities and reduce discomfort. Your team will develop a physical therapy plan based on your needs. This is variable from patient to patient and depends upon your particular case.

Keep in mind during your Chiari malformation surgery recovery that around 50 percent of all patients will fully recover from all pre surgery symptoms, and another 10-30 percent will experience significant improvement. The remaining patients may continue to experience some pre-operative symptoms or require retreatment, though they too will typically notice that symptoms are less severe.

Recovery Is a Process

As you prepare for your upcoming surgery and recovery, remember that your recuperation is a process. It begins as soon as your procedure is over and every passing day will bring you closer to recovery. Take it one day at a time and be proud of your progress every day.

Now that you have a better idea of some of the things you can expect during your Chiari malformation recovery time, plan ahead. Arrange for someone to help with chores and shopping during your initial recovery and make sure you have a ride to your follow-up visits if you think you may have future driving restrictions.

If you would like more clarification, ask your doctor what restrictions he or she expects you to be under so you can plan accordingly. Self-education and making arrangements ahead of time are excellent ways to ensure you can focus on what is most important during your Chiari malformation recovery time — you.

Chiari malformation treatments