A craniotomy is a type of surgery that removes part of the skull (a bone flap) to access the brain underneath. When the procedure is complete, neurosurgeons put the bone back in place and secure it with tiny plates and screws.


A craniotomy might be performed to relieve pressure within the brain, to diagnose or remove a brain tumor, to repair an aneurysm or skull fracture, or to remove a blood clot.

Craniotomy surgeries vary in size. Small ones are called burr-hole or keyhole craniotomies. Neurosurgeons make a dime-sized hole for minimally invasive procedures. Burr hole or keyhole craniotomies are used for minimally invasive procedures to:

  • Clip aneurysms
  • Drain a blood clot
  • Insert a shunt to drain cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
  • Insert a stimulator to treat Parkinson's disease
  • Remove tumors or brain tissue for biopsy
  • Address a brain injury caused by trauma

Treatment Options

There are three types of craniotomies. They include:

  • Craniectomy: Surgeons permanently remove part of the skull.
  • Endoscopic craniotomy: Surgeons insert a lighted scope with a camera through a small incision in the skull.
  • Stereotactic craniotomy: Surgeons use a CT or MRI scan to pinpoint the part of the brain that needs to be treated.


After a craniotomy procedure, some patients are able to leave the hospital the next day. For other patients, a longer stay is needed. Stitches or staples are usually removed 10 to 14 days after surgery.

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