Misconceptions About Spinal Anaesthesia

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
Common misconceptions about spinal anaesthesia

Spinal anaesthesia is one of the most popular forms of anaesthesia used for various surgical procedures. However, not unlike general anaesthesia, there are plenty of wrong notions and misconceptions about this form of anaesthesia. With the aim of helping you understand better about this, here are some misconceptions (and the reality) about Spinal Anaesthesia.

Myth 1 - Spinal Anaesthesia results in life-long backache.

Believe me. Nobody is taking your fear as a joke. Extensive studies involving tens of thousands of patients have been done over decades on this subject because we wanted to know this too.
The end result is that the incidence of backache after spinal anaesthesia is not significant enough to imply it is caused by the procedure. Temporary pain at the site may be there but a chronic long term problem is almost nil.

Myth 2 - Anaesthesiologists are poking the spinal cord blindly. They can leave us paralyzed for life.

We are NOT poking your spinal cord but rather the enclosed 'space' in which the spinal cord resides. We know where the spinal cord ends and poke at a safe distance below that.

The difference between where spinal and epidural anaesthesia is given
Note where the spinal cord ends and where the needle for 'Spinal Anaesthesia' is placed

Myth 3 - There is no need for a trained anaesthesiologist for giving spinal anaesthesia.

Understand that spinal anaesthesia does not end at the moment when the drugs are given. That is literally the first moment of spinal anaesthesia. The management of a surgical case involves handling the effects of that anaesthesia as well as intra-operative complications that can occur at any second within a surgery. Your anaesthesiologist is there because he/she brings a combination of knowledge, vigilance and pre-emptive handling of complications that ensures you are safe throughout the procedure.

Myth 4 - Spinal Anaesthesia affects sexual performance

I had a patient ask me this recently and was unaware such a concept existed. No, spinal anaesthesia does not affect your sexual potency or performance.

Myth 5 - Spinal anaesthesia lasts for a whole day

While I can extend your anaesthesia with epidural and general anaesthesia, with spinal anaesthesia the duration tends to vary between one to three hours.

Myth 6 - I could hear what the doctor was saying after I received spinal anaesthesia. That means the anaesthesia was not given properly.

In spinal anaesthesia, only the lower half of your body is blocked (you cannot feel or move it). You are still awake and can hear everything. The doctor can opt to either give you medication to help you sleep during the procedure or if the doc is like me, give the mobile so that the patient can play games while the surgeons operate!

Patient playing games on his mobile while the surgeon operates. The magic of spinal anaesthesia.
Yes, this actually happened in our operation theater!

Myth 7 - Spinal Anaesthesia is safer than general anaesthesia.

Spinal anaesthesia is 'a safe' form of anaesthesia. But comparisons with general anaesthesia are relative, safety depending on the surgery and the illnesses of the patient.

Myth 8 - Spinal Anaesthesia affects only the lower part of my body

Spinal anaesthesia 'blocks' the lower part of your body. In addition to 'moving' and 'feeling', there is a third component - the 'autonomic' - involved which is also blocked in the affected area. That can affect other aspects including your heart rate and blood pressure, even if the surgery is only on your toe.

Myth 9 - Spinal Anaesthesia can be given for all surgeries.

No. Spinal anaesthesia is meant for surgeries ideally up to the level of the lower (possibly the upper) abdomen.

Myth 10 - Spinal Anaesthesia is only for adults.

Though many are not aware, spinal anaesthesia can be given safely even for children.

Myth 11 - Spinal Anaesthesia cannot be given more than once a year or else there will be problems.

Spinal anaesthesia can be given safely multiple times. In a year and in a lifetime.

Myth 12 - Spinal Anaesthesia can be turned off once the surgery is over.

That would be cool actually but no, we don't have a drug for that (yet). What happens is we wait for the effect of the drug to wear off.

It is time to clear the air regarding those myths about spinal anaesthesia

These are some of the popular misconceptions about spinal anaesthesia that I have heard of.
Got some doubts or an experience to share? Type them in the comment section below.

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Let me know what you think.

  1. I've had to go for spinal anaesthesia twice and on both occasions, had absolutely no problems! But, one does come across horror stories about how it can all go wrong with anesthesia so there is a slight fear and hesitation in the mind when one has to go through it before surgery. Having said that, that pic of the guy playing on his phone during surgery did make me laugh. :D

  2. This is an excellent read Doc. So many myths busted. Although the thought of an injection anywhere in the body sounds terrifying.

  3. A very informative and educational post on anesthesia misconceptions that laymen like me have. Again, I hark back to my minor surgery where was worried to the hilt but eventually things turned out well. We got to trust the doctor.

  4. I am 28, a regular bike rider. I do get lot of back pain while sleeping straight. That's why I prefer to sleep on the sides. Should I be worried about it?

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