What is Spinal Anesthesia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Spinal anesthesia is a type of regional anesthesia in which an anesthetic is injected into the spinal canal. Many people are familiar with the concept of an epidural, a type of spinal anesthesia which numbs the pelvic area for childbirth and medical procedures which need to be carried out in that region. There are also numerous other applications for spinal anesthesia, which is always administered by a trained anesthesiologist. If you are being considered as a candidate for spinal anesthesia, the anesthesiologist will meet with you to discuss the procedure and talk about what it will feel like.

Like other anesthesia techniques, spinal anesthesia is intended to minimize the sense of pain for a patient. In addition to making the surgical experience less traumatic, anesthesia also appears to promote healing, since pain interferes with the rapid healing of injuries. A number of different anesthesia drugs are available, along with a variety of techniques to maximize effectiveness. Spinal anesthesia is a common technique for procedures involving the lower body.


The primary reason for choosing spinal anesthesia is that it helps to avoid the complications associated with general anesthesia. Usually, the patient is under conscious sedation during the procedure as well, to ensure that he or she is at a maximum comfort level. Typically, the patient will not remember very many of the details of the procedure. However, keeping the patient awake for the procedure can help doctors, as the patient can communicate about sensations that he or she is experiencing.

To administer spinal anesthesia, the anesthesiologist first numbs an area with a local anesthetic. Once the local anesthetic is active, another needle is inserted into the spine to administer a longer acting regional anesthetic. Spinal anesthesia is used most frequently to numb the lower half of the body, although it may also be used as a regional anesthesia for some procedures in the torso region. When the procedure is finished, the patient is given a rest and recovery period while he or she regains strength.

No surgical procedure is entirely risk-free. There is a small risk of complications associated with spinal anesthesia, including potential paralysis. For this reason, it is extremely important to be open with the anesthesiologist during your pre-operative interview, to identify any potential sources of complications during the procedure. The anesthesiologist may determine that you are not a good candidate after the interview, and will put forward some alternatives to spinal anesthesia which may be safer.


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Post 3

Over 65 percent of surgical anesthetics are administered by Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, not anesthesiologists. The person who meets with you before your surgery is most likely a CRNA. If you are sure they are an anesthesiologist, they are most likely not the person in the room with you during your surgery.

Post 2

When my grandpa went in for surgery, they used continuous spinal anesthesia on him. There have been many successful cases with using that method in elderly and high-risk patients. Doctors are able to give small amounts of the medication gradually, which helps reduce the risks involved.

They were also able to maintain an adequate level of the anesthesia without it traveling higher up his spine and resulting in a high spinal block. My grandpa has blood pressure problems sometimes but didn’t have any problem during the surgery.

The doctors used the continuous spinal anesthesia for postoperative pain control, too. My grandpa made a full recovery without any complications.

Post 1

My best friend is an RN. She has explained some of the potential spinal anesthesia complications to me before I went in to have my baby. She told me there is a risk of heart failure, with a lot of cases happening to younger patients who were not particularly at risk.

Spinal anesthesia usually causes your blood pressure to drop. That can cause less blood to reach your brain and lead to lowered respiratory function. Basically you don’t get enough oxygen in your blood and can stop breathing all together. It is standard to monitor a patient’s oxygen level and use an oxygen mask or nasal cannula.

My friend also explained that a very small number of patients

have neurological problems after using spinal anesthesia. These can include loss of movement, loss of feeling, and incontinence.

I made sure to discuss all my concerns with my doctor. You always want to find the best course of action. Usually, the benefits outweigh the risks when you find the right treatment.

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