In order to perform a spinal block, doctors insert a long, thin needle known as a spinal needle through the many layers of tissue in the back. As a result, about 25 to 30 percent of people who receive a spinal block complaint of mild back pain after the procedure. For most people, this pain is mild and self-limited. For a small number of people, back pain from a spinal block heralds the onset of complications such as bleeding or infection.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Onset and Duration
Back pain from a spinal block usually presents during the first two to six hours after the procedure, as the local anesthetics used during the procedure start to wear off. People who take other medications for post-operative pain control may not notice pain until a day or two later, if they experience pain at all. Back pain that starts three to five days after the procedure usually signifies a complication. For most people, back pain from a spinal block lasts only a few days. Occasionally, pain may persist for a few weeks. In rare cases, back pain is permanent because of nerve injury during needle placement.
Back pain from a spinal block centers around the lower back where the spinal needle is inserted. Occasionally, pain may seem to radiate down the buttocks and legs. Upper back pain is not an expected result of a spinal block.
Most people describe back pain from a spinal block as mild-to-moderate soreness or a dull ache. Some people also suffer from reflex muscle spasms after the block, which causes episodic, cramping pain that is often triggered by movement. Severe or sharp pain should be evaluated by a doctor.
Alternating hot and cold compresses can reduce local tissue inflammation and speed healing. People who have not already received a prescription for post-operative pain medications from their surgeon should ask about using over-the-counter acetaminophen for pain control. Limiting activity also helps, especially for people with muscle spasms triggered by movement.
People who experience back pain accompanied by fever, drainage at the needle insertion site, muscle weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, changes in level of alertness or changes in personality should contact their doctors for instructions or proceed to the nearest emergency room because these may be signs of complications. As a general rule, back pain starts to improve a few days after a spinal block. Feeling worse or developing new symptoms three to five days after a spinal block is not normal.
In rare cases, back pain is permanent because of nerve injury during needle placement. For most people, back pain from a spinal block lasts only a few days. Some people also suffer from reflex muscle spasms after the block, which causes episodic, cramping pain that is often triggered by movement.
- "Clinical Anesthiology, 4th edition;" G.E. Morgan et al.; 2006
- Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images