It’s an injection that goes into your “epidural space,” which is right outside of the membrane that protects your spinal cord. Doctors use epidural injections to relieve pain during and after surgery, as well as managing chronic pain.
This procedure isn’t right for every case. But if it’s an option, it requires a lower dose of medicine and as a result has fewer side effects. Epidurals may even give you longer-lasting pain relief while helping you stay more alert and mobile.
Epidural Nerve Blocks
This one of the most common uses of an epidural. It’s a type of anesthesia that doctors may give you during surgery to numb your spinal nerves and prevent pain signals from traveling to your brain. It usually begins to work in only 10 to 20 minutes.
You’d get a nerve block through a small, flexible tube, called a catheter, that goes near your spine at the small of your back and delivers the medicine nonstop, so you feel no pain during your surgery.
An epidural targets the nerves that carry pain signals. So you’re still able to feel touch and pressure. In fact, even though you will not feel pain in the lower portion of your body, you may still be able to walk around with some help. For these reasons, doctors usually recommend the use of an epidural nerve block when a woman chooses to get anesthesia during childbirth.
Your doctor will use an X-ray with a special dye to insert the needle in the right spot. She will chose a location along your spine from the bottom of your neck to your tailbone that is closest to the nerve causing your pain.
Conditions that can be treated by an epidural injection include:
The procedure can take as little as 15 minutes and the numbing part of the shot may start to work fairly quickly. (The steroid part, which lasts longer, should start to work in 2 to 5 days.) The amount of time your pain relief lasts is different for each person. This type of injection doesn’t always bring pain relief. But if it does, the benefits can last up to a few months.
Doctors may also use epidural injections to find the source of your pain. In this case, the injection will target a specific nerve. If it helps your pain, your doctor will know she’s found the right nerve.
Who Shouldn’t Get an Epidural?
There are a number of conditions that may make it risky for you get an epidural:
- Anesthesia drug allergies
- Blood clotting problems
- An infection
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Some other medications you're taking
Depending on your situation, your doctor might look for another type of pain relief for you, or you might need to wait until a better time for the procedure.