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Spinal anaesthetic, also known as a spinal block, is administered by injecting drugs into an area called the subarachnoid space near the spinal cord. Spinal anaesthesia can be used while you are awake or in combination with sedation or general anaesthetic.

The drugs numb your nerves to give pain relief in specific areas of your body. Spinals can be used on their own while you are awake or in combination with sedation or general anaesthetic. They can also be used after your procedure to give you effective pain relief.

How is spinal anaesthetic administered?

You will meet with the anaesthetist prior to your procedure and he/she will be with you throughout your time in theatre. Staff will assist you getting into a curled up position on a bed. You might be asked to bend forward and hug a pillow or to lie on your side curled up with your knees drawn toward your chest. We understand this can be an anxious time so staff will be with you to reassure and support you during the injection.

The anaesthetist will explain every step of the process. The injection should not be painful but it can be uncomfortable. You may feel pins and needles or tingling in your legs. Try to remain still and tell the anaesthetist if you are at all concerned.

When the spinal is working fully you will not be able to move your legs or feel any pain below your waist. When both you and your anaesthetist are happy that the anaesthetic has taken effect you will be prepared for surgery.

How long does it take for spinal anaesthesia to wear off?

Spinal anaesthetic usually lasts between 1 to 3 hours. The anaesthetist will stay with you throughout your surgery monitoring the level of drugs in your body and making sure they take effect for the duration of your procedure.

What if I don’t want to be awake?

We understand you might want to sleep through your procedure. Just tell the anaesthetist if you do not want to see or hear any part of the procedure. You may be given sedation and fall into a deep sleep.

There may be clinical reasons not to use a spinal such as having an allergy to any of the drugs or materials used or having an infection at the site where the needle is inserted. Your anaesthetist will be able to suggest an alternative such as general anaesthetic or morphine after your surgery.

What are the advantages of having a spinal anaesthetic?

You should discuss all the your options for anaesthesia with your anaesthetist. Some of the advantages of having a spinal instead of general anaesthetic include:

  • Less confusion or groggy feeling after surgery
  • Better pain relief immediately after surgery
  • Reduced need for strong pain killers
  • Less nausea and vomiting
  • Earlier return to drinking and eating after surgery
  • Less impact on heart and lungs
  • Less risk of chest infections

What are the risks of having a spinal anaesthetic?

Everyone reacts differently to medication. As with any medical procedure you could experience some complications. These might include:

  • Failure of the spinal
  • Pain during the injection
  • Low blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Itching
  • Difficultly passing urine
  • Backache

Rare complications may include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Loss or change of hearing
  • Cardiovascular collapse
  • Allergic reaction
  • Infection around the spine
  • Paralysis or death

Are there any alternatives to a spinal anaesthetic?
There are several other types of anaesthetic. Your surgeon will recommend a type of anaesthetic based on your medical situation and the procedure you are having. Click on the links below to read about these procedures:

If you have any questions or concerns about spinal anaesthesia be sure and ask our experienced staff.

For more information about spinal anaesthetic visit The Royal College of Anaesthetists website.

The Holly Hospital

High Road, Buckhurst Hill, Essex, IG9 5HX

020 8505 3311

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