Skip to content

    Epidural and Spinal Anesthesia

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Topic Overview

    Epidural and spinal blocks are types of anesthesia in which a local anesthetic is injected near the spinal cord and nerve roots. It blocks pain from an entire region of the body, such as the belly, the hips, the legs, or the pelvis. Epidural and spinal anesthesia are used mainly for surgery of the lower belly and the legs. Epidural anesthesia is often used in childbirth. But it can also be used to help control pain after major surgery to the belly or chest.

    Epidural anesthesia involves the insertion of a hollow needle and a small, flexible catheter into the space between the spinal column and outer membrane of the spinal cord (epidural space) in the middle or lower back. The area where the needle will be inserted is numbed with a local anesthetic. Then the needle is inserted and removed after the catheter has passed through it. The catheter remains in place. The anesthetic medicine is injected into the catheter to numb the body above and below the point of injection as needed. The catheter is secured on the back so it can be used again if more medicine is needed.

    Recommended Related to Pain Management

    Pain Management: Support

    Suffering from arthritis or joint pain? Share how you get by, day to day -- or get support here. Chronic Pain Support Group

    Read the Pain Management: Support article > >

    Spinal anesthesia is done in a similar way. But the anesthetic medicine is injected using a much smaller needle, directly into the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the spinal cord. The area where the needle will be inserted is first numbed with a local anesthetic. Then the needle is guided into the spinal canal, and the anesthetic is injected. This is usually done without the use of a catheter. Spinal anesthesia numbs the body below and sometimes above the site of the injection. The person may not be able to move his or her legs until the anesthetic wears off.

    A headache is the most common side effect of spinal anesthesia. It can usually be treated easily. Headaches are less common with epidural anesthesia.

    Epidural and spinal anesthesia are usually combined with other medicines that make you relaxed or sleepy (sedatives) or relieve pain (analgesics). These other medicines are often given through a vein (intravenously, IV). Or they may be injected into the epidural space along with the local anesthetic.

    You are monitored closely when receiving epidural or spinal anesthesia. That's because the anesthetics can affect the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. Both spinal and epidural anesthesia may affect blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, and other vital functions.

    1

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: September 09, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    Next Article:

    Epidural and Spinal Anesthesia Topics

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    Balding man in mirror
    Treatments & solutions.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    acupuncture needle on shoulder
    10 tips to look and feel good.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    woman biting a big ice cube
    Habits that wreck your teeth.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    Myths and facts.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.