Emergency Room Wait Times
Home > Healthy Living > Health Library > Epidural and Spinal Anesthesia
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.
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.
Current as ofMarch 28, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family MedicineJohn M. Freedman, MD - Anesthesiology
Current as of:
March 28, 2018
Medical Review:Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & John M. Freedman, MD - Anesthesiology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2018 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website, and its associated websites, is provided as a benefit to the local community, and the Internet community in general; it does not constitute medical advice. We try to provide quality information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this website and its associated sites. As medical advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each patient and healthcare is constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of a competent physician. Furthermore, in providing this service, Adventist HealthCare does not condone or support all of the content covered in this site. As an Adventist health care organization, Adventist HealthCare acts in accordance with the ethical and religious directives for Adventist health care services.
Find an Adventist HealthCare affiliated doctor by calling our FREE physician referral service at 800-642-0101 or by searching our online physician directory.
Set Your Location
Setting your location helps us to show you nearby providers and locations based on your healthcare needs.