Intrathecal injection

An intrathecal injection can help control pain after surgery. An anesthesiologist injects a single dose of narcotic (opioid) medicine around your spinal cord. One injection will last up to 24 hours after it is given.

An intrathecal injection can reduce the amount of other medicines needed to control your pain.

During the procedure

  • You will sit and bend over or lie on your side.
  • Your back will be carefully cleaned.
  • The anesthesiologist will numb your skin. You may feel a slight burning (like sunburn) for a few seconds.
  • Once your skin is numb, the anesthesiologist places a special needle into your back and into the spinal space. This space is just outside the spinal cord.
  • He or she will inject the medicine into this space.
  • The anesthesiologist removes the needle and will place a bandage as needed.
  • You will be able to lie on your back.

After the procedure

  • You may receive other pain medicines in addition to the intrathecal injection. Your anesthesiologist will prescribe what is right for you.


Having an intrathecal injection will allow you to:

  • have better pain control
  • be up walking sooner after your surgery
  • be able to eat a regular diet sooner after surgery
  • be able to go home sooner after surgery

Side effects of an intrathecal injection

  • You may have itching all over your body.
  • You may have nausea.
  • You may get a headache.
  • Your lower back may become tender at the catheter entry site.
  • Your blood pressure may drop at times.

Very rare complications (problems) include:

  • bleeding around your spinal cord
  • infection near your spinal cord
  • injury to your spinal cord

Other information

  • The nurses will watch you closely during and after the medicine is given.
  • Your nurse will place a pulse oximeter sensor on your finger after the injection. The sensor will record the amount of oxygen in your blood.

When to call your nurse

Call for a nurse if you have:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • itching
  • problems urinating
  • changes in your pain/comfort level
  • extreme back pain
  • inability to move your legs

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Understanding Your Colon or Rectal Surgery, can-ah-95399
First Published: 01/24/2013
Last Reviewed: 08/15/2017