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Preparation gives you confidence that the event you’re preparing for will go smoothly. Surgery is no exception. Educating yourself on what to expect for your Chiari malformation surgery will help you to feel more comfortable with your upcoming procedure.

Preparation for surgery includes finding the right surgeon, knowing what to expect before and during hospitalization for surgery, determining if the procedure is covered by insurance, and understanding the recovery process. If you still have questions, use this information to start a conversation with your doctor.

What Will the Surgery Be Like?

There are a few different surgeries that can be used to treat Chiari malformation and your doctor has recommended what he or she feels best suits you and your condition. Despite the specifics of each procedure being different, there are some general things that you can expect.

First, before the procedure, your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medications. However, never modify dosages without directions from your physician. Your doctor will also give you instructions about what you may eat or drink 24 hours before your procedure. These instructions are for your comfort and safety, so take care to follow them exactly.

During the procedure itself, you will be asleep under general anesthesia. The actual surgery will typically take 2-3 hours, after which you will wake up and recover in a specialized unit where you can be closely monitored. Once your team has confirmed that you are stable following surgery (usually the next morning), you will move to a neurosurgical floor bed. Your overall stay in the hospital is usually 2-4 days, but this depends on you and your doctor.

The Procedures

Chiari Decompression

As far as what your surgeon will do during the procedure, that depends on which surgery is performed. A common surgery for Chiari malformation is dural opening Chiari decompression, where the surgeon removes a small section of skull, opens the membranes surrounding the brain, places a flexible patch inside and closes the skin using sutures or staples. The goal is to create more space for the brain and alleviate pressure built up due to the Chiari malformation.

Minimally Invasive Chiari Decompression

A similar procedure accomplishes the same goal but uses a minimally invasive techniques. The surgeon uses special instruments and microscopic imaging, which allows for a much smaller incision. There is also no patch placement and the recovery time tends to be shorter than with a traditional surgical approach.

Cervical Laminectomy

Another common procedure is a cervical laminectomy, which may be done in combination with decompression surgery. The surgeon removes a small piece of the uppermost vertebrae of your spine, creating more space for the spinal cord. This also helps alleviate the pressure that has contributed to your symptoms.

Is the Procedure Covered by Insurance?

Trying to wade through fine print and understand insurance coverage is no easy task. The good news is that there are people ready to help you figure out what portions of your procedure are covered by your insurance and what might not be.

In general, there are two resources you should seek out. If your doctor’s office employs a benefits specialist, he or she is specially trained in health insurance and can help you determine your coverage under your policy.

The second is a customer representative at your insurance company itself. For the insurance company to best serve you, it will be helpful if you gather as much information before contacting them, including:

  • Your doctor’s contact information
  • Codes for any procedures you have scheduled
  • Your date of surgery
  • Your diagnosis

If you don’t have all this information, your doctor’s office will be able to provide it to you. If you choose to consult with a benefits specialist, be sure to have all the information you can about your insurance policy.

Have You Found the Right Surgeon?

To feel comfortable before, during and after your procedure, consider doing extensive research on potential surgeons. If you haven’t been referred to a practice yet, ask friends and family if they can recommend a neurosurgeon in the area.

In this internet age, reading reviews online can also guide you to a doctor who is a good fit for your needs. Some key qualities to look for include:

  • Compassionate
  • Transparent
  • Trustworthy
  • Experienced

Compassion, transparency, and trustworthiness can help you feel comfortable on a personal level with your surgeon, allowing you to be at ease during your appointments. An experienced Chiari malformation surgeon will allow you to feel confident that you are receiving care at the hands of an expert who is knowledgeable in your condition.

You may even wish to read through the practice or doctor’s website to help determine his or her degree of experience with Chiari malformation treatment. Taking a little time to find someone with a thorough understanding of Chiari malformation will let you rest easy, knowing you are in good hands.

What Is Recovery Like?

Your recovery is a very personal experience and depends on factors such as the extent of your condition, which surgery you had and any complicating health conditions. However, in general, most patients can expect to be discharged to recover at home approximately 2-4 days after surgery.

Once at home, you will be put on activity restrictions that will limit the amount of weight you can lift, types of activity you can do, and driving. As you recover, your doctor will ease your restrictions and most patients are able to return to work in 6-12 weeks.

Still Have Questions?

If you find that you still have questions, be sure to bring them up with your doctor. Taking extra time to develop a better understanding of what to expect with your surgery for Chiari malformation, is a great start. Continue informing yourself as a patient, and you can rest easy knowing you are making the right treatment choice.

Chiari malformation treatments