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Does a Paresthesia During Spinal Needle Insertion Indicate Intrathecal Needle Placement?
  1. Ryan P. Pong, MD,
  2. Benjamin S. Gmelch, MD and
  3. Christopher M. Bernards, MD
  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA.
  1. Address correspondence to: Christopher M. Bernards, MD, Department of Anesthesiology, B2-AN, VMMC, 1100 Ninth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101-2756 (e-mail: chrisb{at}


Background and Objectives: Paresthesias are relatively common during spinal needle insertion, however, the clinical significance of the paresthesia is unknown. A paresthesia may result from needle-to-nerve contact with a spinal nerve in the epidural space, or, with far lateral needle placement, may result from contact with a spinal nerve within the intervertebral foramen. However, it is also possible and perhaps more likely, that paresthesias occur when the spinal needle contacts a spinal nerve root within the subarachnoid space. This study was designed to test this latter hypothesis.

Methods: Patients (n = 104) scheduled for surgery under spinal anesthesia were observed during spinal needle insertion. If a paresthesia occurred, the needle was fixed in place and the stylet removed to observe whether cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flowed from the hub. The presence of CSF was considered proof that the needle had entered the subarachnoid space.

Results: Paresthesias occurred in 14/103 (13.6%) of patients; 1 patient experienced a paresthesia twice. All paresthesias were transient. Following a paresthesia, CSF was observed in the needle hub 86.7% (13/15) of the time.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that the majority of transient paresthesias occur when the spinal needle enters the subarachnoid space and contacts a spinal nerve root. Therefore, when transient paresthesias occur during spinal needle placement it is appropriate to stop and assess for the presence of CSF in the needle hub, rather than withdraw and redirect the spinal needle away from the side of the paresthesia as some authors have suggested.

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  • Funding received from the Department of Anesthesiology, Virginia Mason Medical Center. Presented in part at the May 5-6, 2007 Western Anesthesia Resident's Conference, Sacramento, CA. James P. Rathmell, M.D. served as Acting Editor-in-Chief for this manuscript.