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Anne Asher

Thyroid Surgery May Bring On Unexpected Neck Pain

By January 25, 2012

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If you're planning thyroid surgery, you may experience neck pain and stiffness after the procedure.

I asked Dr. Eric Wisotzky, Associate Director ofCancer Rehabilitation at the National Rehabilitation Hospital what causes it and what you can do to alleviate it. Here's what he said:

Dr. Wisotzky says that several factors can cause neck pain and stiffness after thyroid surgery. The first, he says, is the position of your neck during the surgery. "The neck is often fully extended during thyroid surgery." He informs me that the painmay bedue to compression of a nerve in your head, called the greater occipital nerve.

The second factor is neck positioning after surgery, according to Wisotzky. "You may have a tendency to keep your neck in one position after surgery, which can make it feel stiff." Wisotzky suggests moving your neck and shoulders as soon as you're cleared by your surgeon to do so.

The surgical incision can cause the pain, too, Wisotzky says. He adds that "severe post-operative nausea and vomiting may also contribute."

How long does neck pain after thyroid surgery usually last? What can you expect as time goes on?

"Typically, neck pain after thyroid surgery only lasts a few days, but there are cases where it lasts for weeks, months, or even years," Wisotzky says.

And your diagnosis may have something to do with it. "Patients with thyroid cancer seem to have longer periods of post-operative pain than those with benign thyroid diseases."

Dr. Wisotzky suggests addressing the pain as soon as you can. "Early pain control after surgery is important because without it you may be increasing the risk of chronic pain." Dr. Wisotzky says going to a physical therapist to get a neck exercise program is a good idea, as is seeing a physiatrist. And to move out of stiffness, he suggests 3 simple exercises to be done for 10 repititions, 3 times per day:

1) Move the neck in the following planes of motion: look down, look to the left, look to the right, tilt the neck to the right, and tilt the neck to the left.

2) Rotate both shoulders forward in a circular motion.

3) Slowly raise the arms overhead and slowly lower them back down.


Wisotzky, E., MD.  Associate Director of Oncology Rehabilitation, National Rehabilitation Hospital. Email Interview.  Jan 2012.

April 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm
(1) severe back pain and cancer says:

Of course it doesn’t always have to be your own experience; it could be feedback from a satisfied customer that you have developed into a testimonial story. Frequent causes of neck misalignment are: difficult birth process, falls, sports injuries, and auto accidents. In some cases the cause is minor, perhaps just a strained muscle, and the pain goes away on its own in relative short time.

October 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm
(2) Trena Brown says:

I have been having a lot of problems with my neck tighen up after I have had my thyroid surgery 2010. I had huge nogels with cancer . Everyday I feel like it is so tight it is squezzing my head off. Also it is putting so much pressure on my head I can’t stand it. Even my hearing is getting affected. I don’t know if it is all from my neck surgery or if part of it could be my disc in the back of my neck . maybe they did something when they did the surgery. I need some answers please.

February 25, 2014 at 6:39 pm
(3) rjs says:

I have had some pretty bad pains and stiffness post thyroid surgery. When I first went to see my doctor regarding this lump in my neck, he immediately referred me to an Endocrinologist. this doctor ran a biopsy after performing an ultra sound to locate the lump. the biopsy turned out to be malignant,i was in stage 4. All this time I felt like I was just not sleeping right at night or maybe just gaining weight. My surgery was scheduled 3 weeks after this biopsy. I was in surgery for over 9.5 hours. when I awakened i was a little soar but very relieved the doctors all said that I should be recovered and back to work in 30days. Boy were they wrong!. It’s been almost one year March 26, 2014 to be exact. I am still having swelling, soreness, chocking feeling, and I feel like i have a rope tied around my neck at all times. It is still difficult for me to drive and my right shoulder is soar as well. (the surgery was so extensive they had to cut into my shoulder because the cancer had spread). today the doctors seem baffled and clueless as to why I am still having all these symptoms. after an MRI was done it revealed my upper lungs had a small lump or nodule. the doctor was not sure but was sure that it was nothing. In my neck, there were two of these lumps or nodules also. the doctors again were sure this was nothing. since then I have experienced swelling ,fatigue, pains abruptly occurring in my neck and shoulder, to the point where i have to take some heavy pain meds. I am still on disabled from work. I am 60yrs old and concerned that I may never fully recover. My doctors keep saying that another month and another month and physical therapy. One of my doctors has told me he is stumped and has no idea why I am having so much pain. to this day I have a regiment of doctors that cant seem to get a handle on this. I need help. Do I need to get legal??

April 27, 2014 at 8:54 am
(4) C G says:

I have experience most of these symptoms since I was twenty-two and had a nodule removed with the right whole side of my thyroid. I was told it was benign..life goes on taking a low dose of synthroid till 2013 I experieced enough soreness/isolated throbbing pain. So my person doc found a lump and same stuff all over again. You know… ultra sound needle biopsy that was cancer cells found…but they had to remove the rest of my thyroid. Again benign. Now I am having neck pain but high in my neck, lymph nodes possibly. I am not sure I trust this field of medicine. Maybe it was cancer, maybe we are all these doctors learning curve. Doctors have to attend conferences in Hawaii and the Bahamas to get the latest info from each other. So until they find out they won’t know. Medicine isn’t exact science and some docs are just going through the motions and don’t care as much as they should. Pharmaceuticals are damaging. Be smart and strong and make your own choices about your bodies. What do I do now. Research. Take my doctors opinion and decide. Lifes to short to focus on the dreaded C word.Good luck and God bless.

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