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Spinal Anesthesia Study

Below you will find some basic information about spinal anesthesia (SA) for your child's surgery, including its benefits. While your child is here at Nationwide Children's Hospital, your child's safety and comfort is our primary concern, so please don't hesistate to contact us if you should have any questions that are not answered below.

How a Spinal Anesthetic Works:

  • Your anesthesiologist will speak with you about general anesthesia (going to sleep) as compared to spinal anesthesia before the surgery.
  • A numbing medicine will be placed on your child’s back to prevent pain associated with the needle.
  • When your child is taken into the operating room he/she will be safely placed in the sitting position and comforted by one of our outstanding nursing staff.
  • A small needle is used to inject numbing medicine into the back. It is a one-time injection that is very safe, because it is injected well below where the spinal cord is located. This will numb your child from the belly button down. The procedure usually takes less than a minute.
  • An IV is placed for safety in one of your child’s feet. He/she will not feel it, because at that point the legs and feet are completely numb.
  • While your child is having the operation, he/she is “awake”, but most children are so comfortable that they fall asleep.
  • If needed, a small amount of sedation can be given for comfort. We have found that this is rarely needed.
  • After the surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room for a short time. Most children are able to go home very shortly after the procedure, unless an overnight stay is suggested by your surgeon or anesthesiologist.
  • General anesthesia is almost never required, but is always available as a backup plan

Benefits of Spinal Anesthesia over General Anesthesia:

  • Your child will not need to go to sleep using the traditional method (falling asleep with a mask) and will not need a breathing device (such as a breathing tube). General anesthetics are drugs that keep your child’s whole body asleep.
  • Opiates (drugs like morphine) are almost never required.
  • Due to the lack of need for general anesthetics and/or opiates, your child will not have his/her breathing depressed after the procedure and will recover much faster.
  • Spinal anesthesia provides excellent, long lasting pain control. Most children that have spinal anesthesia only require Tylenol after surgery.
  • Your child will be able to eat or breastfeed much sooner than if he/she had general anesthesia.
  • Spinal anesthesia carries much less risk than general anesthesia, especially in young children or children with significant medical problems.

Safety of Spinal Anesthesia:

  • Spinal anesthesia is very safe. As with any needle procedure (even vaccinations), there is a small risk of bleeding and/or infection. This risk is extremely small and every precaution is taken to ensure safety.
  • The risk of other complications is much lower with spinal anesthesia. This includes low blood pressure, problems with the heart or breathing problems. 

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