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Forty patients undergoing spinal anaesthesia for a variety of surgical procedures were randomly allocated to receive 3 ml of ropivacaine 5 mg ml–1 in glucose 10 mg ml–1 or 50 mg ml–1. Onset of sensory block to T10 was significantly faster (P=0.03) with the glucose 50 mg ml–1 solution (median 5 min, range 2–20 min) than with the 10 mg ml–1 solution (median 10 min, range 2–25 min). Maximum extent of cephalad spread was virtually the same in both groups (10 mg ml–1 median T6/7, range T3–T10; 50 mg ml–1 median T6, range T3–T10) with similar times to regression beyond S2 (10 mg ml–1 median 210 min, range 150–330 min; 50 mg ml–1 median 210 min, range 150–330 min). Complete motor block was produced in the majority of patients (10 mg ml–1 90%; 50 mg ml–1 85%) and the time to complete regression was the same in both groups (median 120 min, range 90–210 min). A block adequate for the projected surgery was achieved in all patients.