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Spinal anaesthetic

2-minute read

This page will give you information about a spinal anaesthetic. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

You can also download and print a PDF version of this factsheet, with space for your own questions or notes.

What is a spinal anaesthetic?

A spinal anaesthetic (or spinal) involves injecting local anaesthetics and other painkillers into an area called the subarachnoid space, near your spinal cord. This numbs your nerves to give pain relief in certain areas of your body. A spinal can be used either on its own while you are awake, or together with sedation or a general anaesthetic. A spinal can also be used after your operation to give effective pain relief.

How is a spinal given?

Your anaesthetist will insert a needle, inject anaesthetic through it and then remove the needle. It should not be painful, although it can be uncomfortable.

A spinal usually lasts for 1 to 3 hours. The anaesthetist will put enough anaesthetics through the needle to make sure that it lasts longer than the expected length of the operation.

What complications can happen?

Illustration showing the location of the spinal anaesthetic.
A spinal being given.
  • failure of the spinal
  • low blood pressure
  • headache
  • itching
  • difficulty passing urine
  • backache
  • loss or change of hearing
  • cardiovascular collapse
  • unexpected high block
  • infection around your spine
  • nerve damage
  • spinal abscess
  • blood clots
  • paralysis or death


A spinal anaesthetic can be used for most people, usually giving a safe and effective form of pain relief both during and after an operation or procedure.

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Last reviewed: September 2018

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