What happens after surgery

After surgery, your nurse will help you sit upright. This helps reduce swelling in the neck. You’ll have your blood pressure, pulse and oxygen levels checked regularly. Your blood will be tested for calcium levels.

A nurse will help you move and a physiotherapist may show you neck exercises.

You may have a drip in your arm and a drain, which takes fluid away from your wound. These will be removed as soon as possible.

You may have some pain. Your doctor will prescribe painkillers. Let your nurse know if they’re not working so they can be changed.

You can gradually start drinking and eating. It may be sore at first, but you should be able to eat solid foods within 2–3 days. If you find it difficult to eat, you can have nutritious drinks.

Most people can go home 1–3 days after their operation.

You should be able to go back to work after a few weeks. Talk to your doctor about when you can drive. You may need to tell your insurance company you have had thyroid surgery.

After your operation

After your operation the nurses on the ward will help you to lie in a fairly upright position supported by pillows. This helps to reduce swelling in your neck area. They will take your blood pressure and pulse and check your oxygen levels at regular intervals. You will have your blood tested for calcium levels. You’ll be encouraged to start moving about as soon as possible. You should have a nurse with you the first time you get out of bed as you may feel drowsy and dizzy. If you have to stay in bed, you’ll be encouraged to do regular leg movements and deep breathing exercises. A physiotherapist or nurse will explain these exercises.

Drips and drains

You may have a drip (intravenous infusion) going into your arm to replace your body’s fluids. This can be removed as soon as you are drinking enough. You may have one or two tubes (drains) to drain fluid from your wound. These are usually removed within 24–48 hours. Your surgeon may use stitches or clips to close your wound. Sometimes dissolvable stitches are used. If you have stitches or clips that need to be removed you will be told when and where this will happen.

Pain and discomfort

You’ll probably have some pain or discomfort after your operation, and your doctor will prescribe painkillers for you. If you find they’re not helping, let your nurse know as soon as possible so that your painkillers can be changed. The skin on your neck up to your jaw line might feel numb after surgery. This is caused by the local anaesthetic used during surgery.

Your neck will feel stiff after surgery and your nurse, surgeon or physiotherapist will show you some neck exercises to help with this.

Eating and drinking

You should be able to start drinking an hour or so after your operation. You may find it painful to swallow solid foods at first, and may need to start off eating soft foods. Over the next 2–3 days you should find it easier to swallow, and you can start eating solid foods. The nurses or a dietitian will discuss this with you before you go home. It’s important to maintain a balanced diet. If you’re finding it difficult to eat, nutritious drinks are a good way to supplement your diet.

Going home

Most people are ready to go home about 1–3 days after their operation. If you think you might have problems when you go home (for example, if you live alone or you have several flights of stairs to climb), let your nurse or the social worker know when you’re admitted to the ward. They can arrange help before you leave hospital.

Some people take longer than others to recover from their operation. If you have any problems, you may find it helpful to talk to someone who is not directly involved with your illness. Our cancer support specialists can talk to you, and tell you how to contact a counsellor or local cancer support group. You can call them on 0808 808 00 00.


Before you leave hospital, you’ll be given an appointment to attend an outpatient clinic for a post-operative check-up. Some hospitals will post this appointment to you once you have left hospital. At this appointment your doctor will discuss with you the results of your surgery and whether you need any further treatment. It’s also a good time to ask any questions and discuss any concerns you may have.


Your doctor will tell you when it’s safe for you to start driving after your surgery. When you start driving you should make sure that you are free from any side effects of painkillers. You should also make sure you’re able to turn your neck in all directions. You may need to let your insurance company know you have had thyroid surgery as some policies give time limits for not driving after surgery.

Getting back to work

Everyone recovers from surgery at their own pace. Most people can return to work within two weeks of having thyroid surgery. However, if your work involves heavy lifting, standing for long periods or walking around a lot, you may need more time before you are able to return to work. You may find it helpful to speak to an occupational health nurse or your GP if you are uncertain when to go back.

‘Everyone takes different amounts of time to heal and recover. I didn’t have much pain at all, but if you do, just ask for painkillers.’ Heather


Back to Surgery explained

Surgery for thyroid cancer

Surgery for thyroid cancer removes part or all of the thyroid gland. You may have some lymph nodes removed from your neck.

Who might I meet?

A team of specialists will plan your surgery. This will include a surgeon who specialises in your type of cancer.

Side effects of surgery

After thyroid surgery you may be tired. Surgery may also cause changes to your neck, voice and calcium and hormone levels in your blood.

Thyroid hormones

If you have part, or all, of your thyroid gland removed you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement tablets.