What is an epidural?
An epidural is the injection of anesthesia medication into the epidural space of the lower back and most often involves the placement of a continuous catheter. This procedure can also include a local anesthetic block, a narcotic, and/ or an epidural steroid injection. There are several types of epidurals that are used to stop the transmission of pain along the nerve pathways.
- Continuous Epidural Analgesia or Patient Controlled Epidural Analgesia (PCEA) - Epidural analgesia delivers anesthetic medication to nerves within the epidural space in the vertebra. Your physician places a small tube or catheter so medication can be administered throughout surgery and beyond for comfort. Depending on the medication the patient is getting, they may experience mild, moderate or even significant leg weakness while the epidural is in effect. If weakness is anticipated or expected the patient will be asked to remain in bed during the course of the epidural, or the epidural will be adjusted to facilitate ambulation.
- Frequently the patient can be given control over the dosing mechanism just as with the IV PCA. We call this technique the patient-controlled epidural analgesia, or PCEA. This type of pain control is particularly well suited for chest, abdominal or pelvic surgeries, and childbirth.
- Walking Epidural - The walking epidural provides pain relief for early labor and for periods following surgical procedures. Medications delivered through a catheter are quite effective but do not numb or weaken the legs or lower abdomen. This epidural is an analgesic rather than an anesthetic because its purpose is to reduce pain, not eliminate all sensation.