Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Spinal anaesthetic

5-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.

What is a spinal anaesthetic?

A spinal anaesthetic (or spinal) involves injecting local anaesthetics and other painkillers into the subarachnoid space (an area 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 an operation or procedure to give effective pain relief.

How does a spinal work?

The subarachnoid space is the bag of fluid that surrounds your spinal cord and the nerves that come out from it. Local anaesthetics and other painkillers are injected using a fine needle into this space.

How is a spinal given?

To insert the needle, your anaesthetist will ask you to either sit up or lie on your side.

Your anaesthetist will insert the needle and when they are certain that it is in the right position they will inject anaesthetic through it.

Illustration showing the location of the spinal anaesthetic.
A spinal being given.

It should not be painful, although it can be uncomfortable.

The time that the spinal lasts for varies but is usually 1 to 3 hours. Your anaesthetist will put enough anaesthetic through the needle to make sure that it lasts longer than the expected length of the operation.

What complications can happen?

There is a risk of significant permanent harm from a spinal.

  • failure of the spinal
  • low blood pressure
  • headache
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • itching
  • difficulty passing urine
  • backache
  • cardiovascular collapse (where your heart stops)
  • unexpected high block, if the local anaesthetic spreads beyond the intended area
  • infection around your spine
  • nerve damage
  • various other more serious problems have been reported with spinals, including spinal abscess and blood clots
  • paralysis or death

A complication may happen after you have had a spinal.

  • pus, redness, tenderness or pain
  • a high temperature
  • feeling unwell
  • discomfort when in a bright room or sunlight
  • neck stiffness
  • difficulty moving or feeling your legs
  • difficulty passing urine
  • bowel incontinence

How soon will I recover?

The effect of the spinal will wear off after a few hours.


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. Medical Illustration Copyright ©

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

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.