Location Map FAQ
St. Maarten Medical Center
For many operations, patients receive a general anaesthetic, which
produces a state of controlled unconsciousness during the operation.
As an alternative, for operations below the waist, you can have a spinal
anaesthetic. This is when an injection is placed in your back, which makes
you numb from the waist downwards. This means you cannot feel the
operation being done. Depending on your medical condition and the
operation you are having, this may be safer or more comfortable for you.
Your anaesthetist can help you decide which of these would be best for
you. Almost any operation below the waist is suitable for a spinal
anaesthetic. Depending on your personal health, there may be benefits to
you from having a spinal anaesthetic. Your anaesthetist is there to discuss
this with you and help you make a decision as to what suits you best.
A local anaesthetic drug is injected through a needle into the middle of your lower back, to numb the nerves from the waist down to the toes for two to three hours. Other drugs may be injected at the same time that prolong pain relief for many hours.
A spinal injection is often no more painful than having a blood test or having a cannula inserted. It
may take several minutes to perform.
Only when the anaesthetist is satisfied that the anaesthetic has taken effect will he/she allow the surgery to begin.
Advantages compared to having a general anaesthetic. There may be:
As with all anaesthetic techniques, there is a possibility of unwanted side effects or
These may range from trivial to unpleasant, but can be treated and do not usually last long.
A severe and important headache can occur after a spinal injection. In young women having a spinal for
childbirth it happens in around 1 in 200 or 300 spinals. It is much less common in older people
having a spinal. This headache gets worse on sitting or standing and improves if you lie down. If
this happens to you, you need to see an anaesthetist for assessment. If you are still in hospital,
your nurses and the surgical team will organise this for you. If you have left hospital, you should
seek help from your GP or by attending the emergency department.
Nerve damage – this is a rare complication of spinal anaesthesia. Temporary
loss of sensation, pins and needles and sometimes muscle weakness may last for a few days or even
weeks but almost all of these make a full recovery in time.
Permanent nerve damage is rare (approximately 1 in 50,000 spinals). It has about the same chance of
occurring as major complications of having a general anaesthetic.