Summary The effects of intra-operative magnesium sulphate on pain relief after major lumbar surgery were investigated in 24 patients. Patients were randomly allocated to receive either an infusion of 50 mg.kg−1 magnesium sulphate or an equivalent volume of saline at induction of anaesthesia. Anaesthesia was induced with propofol and remifentanil. Tracheal intubation was facilitated using rocuronium. Maintenance was achieved with remifentanil and sevoflurane in nitrous oxide/ oxygen. Intra-operative monitoring included standard equipment and neuromuscular transmission. During surgery, neuromuscular block recovery was longer in the magnesium group. Postoperative opioid consumption and pain scores were lower in the magnesium group. The first night's sleep and the global satisfaction scores were better in the magnesium group. The results of the study support magnesium sulphate as a useful adjuvant for postoperative analgesia after major lumbar surgery.