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Spinal Anesthesia vs. General Anesthesia

September 20, 2019

Learn more about spinal aneshtesia from Dr. James Kryzanski, Co-Chief of the Division of Spinal Surgery.

Dr. Neurosurgery speaking with a patient about spine treatments.

Spinal surgery can be intimidating for many people due to long recovery times. But there’s good news for spinal patients: with a new form of anesthesia offered here at Tufts MC’s Spine Center for complex procedures, you could be going home from surgery the same day. Our team of anesthesiologists and spinal surgeons work together to determine if this treatment option is best for you.

We asked Co-Chief of the Division of Spinal Surgery at Tufts Medical Center, Jim Kryzanski, MD, about the advantages of using this new spinal anesthesia technique over general anesthesia for spinal surgery patients.

How does spinal anesthesia work as opposed to general anesthesia?

For spinal surgeries lasting under three hours, our anesthesiologists inject spinal anesthesia into the spine and it starts to take effect by numbing the back and leg in only 10 minutes. Patients undergoing general anesthesia are completely unconscious and they typically need to use breathing tubes and inhale gas. Spinal anesthesia allows us to avoid some of these procedural elements.

How does spinal anesthesia benefit patients?

Unlike general anesthesia, spinal anesthesia does not require patients to use breathing tubes. Patients who take medications to control blood pressure, have COPD or are long-term smokers have a hard time with breathing tubes, which makes spinal anesthesia a far better option for them. We have also been able to eliminate the need for placing a urinary catheter during these procedures.

Spinal anesthesia is especially advantageous for older patients who are more likely to suffer from side effects post-surgery including post-operative confusion or long-term cognitive dysfunction. It also reduces the risk for heart or lung complications that can accompany general anesthesia. Using spinal anesthesia often even allows younger patients to go home on the very same day.

How does this technique improve post-operative experiences?

Studies show that Tufts MC patients who underwent a procedure with spinal anesthesia instead of general pain control not only experienced less pain, but also had a shorter hospital stay overall. On average, patients who underwent this new procedure had a 20 percent pain reduction in the 24 hours following the procedure and required 33 percent less narcotic medication.

If you are interested in learning more, request an appointment or call the Spine Center at Tufts Medical Center at 617.636.2266, Monday – Friday, 8am – 4:30pm.

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