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The purpose of this study is to determine whether the mode of anaesthesia chosen for patients undergoing lumbar microdiscectomy surgery has any significant influence on the immediate outcome in terms of safety, efficacy or patient satisfaction.

This prospective randomised study compared safety, efficacy and satisfaction levels in patients having spinal versus general anaesthesia for single level lumbar micro-discectomy.

Fifty consecutive healthy and cooperative patients were recruited and prospectively randomised into two equal groups; half the patients received a spinal anaesthetic (SA), the remainder a general anaesthetic (GA). Each specific mode of anaesthesia was standardised.

Comprehensive postoperative evaluation concentrated on documenting any complications specific to the particular mode of anaesthesia, recording the pace at which the various milestones of physiological and functional recovery were reached, and the level of patient satisfaction with the type of anaesthesia used.

The results showed no serious complication specific to their particular mode of anaesthesia in either group. Thirteen out of 25 SA patients required temporary urinary catheterisation (9 males, 4 females) while among the GA group 4 patients required urinary catheterisation (4 males and 1 female). Post-operative pain perception was significantly lower in the SA group. The SA patients achieved the milestones of physiological and functional recovery more rapidly. While both groups were satisfied with their procedure, the level of satisfaction was significantly higher in the SA group.

In conclusion, lumbar spinal microdiscectomy can be carried out with equal safety, employing either spinal or general anaesthesia. While they require more temporary urinary catheterisation associated with the previous use of intrathecal morphine, patients undergoing SA suffer less pain in association with their procedure and recover more rapidly. Blinded to an extent by not having experienced the alternative, both groups appeared satisfied with their anaesthetic. However, the level of satisfaction was significantly higher in the SA group.

Correspondence should be addressed to: Sue Woodward, Secreteriat, Britspine, Vale Clinic, Hensol Park, Vale of Glamorgan, CF72 8JY Wales.