What is an epidural?

An epidural is commonly used for pain control after surgery and during childbirth. An epidural involves placing a small needle in the back and then positioning a small tube (catheter) near the nerves exiting the spinal cord. Medications are delivered through the catheter, temporarily numbing regions of the body.

Epidurals and spinals are often confused. When a spinal is performed, the anesthesiologist places a small needle in the back and the tip is in the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. For an epidural, the tip of the needle is outside of the sack holding the spinal fluid in the space where the nerves exit the spinal.

Epidurals are the most common form of birth anesthesia. Have you ever wondered what happens when you receive one? Watch this clip from Discovery Health's "Women's Health Tips" to find out.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

An epidural injection is a local injection containing a mixture of corticosteroid and anesthetic. The needle goes through the skin, into the area around the spinal nerve roots. Watch an animation of this injection for lower back pain.

An epidural is a procedure during which an injection is placed into the space around the spinal column causing numbness in the lower half of the body.

Continue Learning about Pain Treatment

Pain, The Opioid Epidemic and How Health Care Has to Improve
Pain, The Opioid Epidemic and How Health Care Has to Improve
Opioid addiction is a national epidemic—and so is chronic pain. Could there be a relationship? 1.  In 2015, 2 million Americans had a substance use d...
Read More
What will happen when I check in for my spinal injection?
North American Spine Society (NASS)North American Spine Society (NASS)
On the day of your spinal injection, you should arrive a little early to fill out any necessary pape...
More Answers
What are over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines?
Stacy Wiegman, PharmDStacy Wiegman, PharmD
Over-the-counter pain relievers are usually divided into two categories: acetaminophen and NSAID...
More Answers
Should Opioids be Prescribed for All Types of Pain?
Should Opioids be Prescribed for All Types of Pain?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.