Spinal Anaesthesia

For many operations, patients receive a general anaesthetic which produces a state of controlled unconsciousness during the operation. A spinal anaesthetic (“a spinal”) may be used instead for some operations below the level of the waist. Depending on the type of operation and your own medical condition, a spinal anaesthetic may sometimes be safer for you and suit you better than a general anaesthetic.

You can normally choose with a spinal anaesthetic:

  • To remain fully conscious
  • To have some sedation during your operation. This makes you relaxed and drowsy although you remain conscious
  • Occasionally a spinal anaesthetic may be combined with a general anaesthetic

Almost any operation performed below the waistline is suitable for a spinal and there are benefits to both you and your Surgeon when a spinal anaesthetic is used.

What Is A Spinal Anaesthetic?

Spinal Anaesthesia is where the anaesthetic is injected into the fluid just outside the spinal cord in your back rendering the lower half of the body numb to pain and feeling. The anaesthetic typically wears off in 2 – 4 hours, however pain relief may last for periods of up to 24 hours.

How Is A Spinal Anaesthetic Administered

  • Prior to the administration of the anaesthetic, a needle will be used to insert a cannula into a vein in your hand or arm and intravenous fluids will be commenced.
  • You will either sit on the side of the bed with your feet on a low stool or lie on your side with your knees tucked up towards your chest.
  • Your Anaesthetist will have the assistance of an anaesthetic nurse who will provide you with support throughout the procedure.  You will be kept constantly informed of what is happening whilst the procedure is progressing.
  • Once the Anaesthetist has identified the appropriate landmarks, an injection of local anaesthetic will be administered into the skin to numb the tissues prior to the insertion of the spinal needle.

What Should I Expect To Feel?

A Spinal will commence working within 3-5 minutes.  Initially you may feel a degree of warmth in your legs followed by pins and needles in one or both of your legs.  You will be asked to lie flat as the spinal block continues to work.  Following the loss of these sensations your legs will be “numb” to touch and after approximately 10 minutes you will be unable to move your legs.  You will feel no pain below the waistline at this stage.

Whilst the anaesthetic is taking effect your vital signs, including blood pressure, will be monitored closely.

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