Epidurals are typically effective for pain relief. For example, epidural pain relief is usually effective for use during labor and childbirth. In many cases, it allows for a mostly pain-free birthing experience. Epidurals may also prove effective for other types of pain, however. For example, they may be an effective treatment for back and neck pain as well as the pain caused by pinched or damaged nerves.
Epidural pain relief differs from oral and intravenous (IV) medications because epidurals are not sent into the bloodstream to deliver pain relief. Instead, an epidural is injected into the space that surrounds the dura, which is the membrane that covers a patient's spinal chord and nerve roots. This space is called the epidural space, and injecting pain relief medications into it delivers effective relief to specific regions of a person's body.
An epidural is often used to block pain to the lower part of a woman's body when she is having a baby. This type of pain relief is often preferred during labor and childbirth because it may not leave the woman overly sleepy, and it is less likely to have an adverse effect on a woman's baby than IV drugs. Additionally, it typically delivers more reliable pain relief than most IV or oral medications.
While many people are most familiar with the use of epidural pain relief for labor and childbirth, it can also provide effective pain relief in other situations. For example, it may be used to provide relief from back pain. In such a case, a pain reliever and steroid medication may be injected into the epidural space. The patient may then experience an immediate period of numbness that wears off after a few hours — pain relief often starts within about three days of the injection. Depending on the type and severity of a person's pain as well as the medications that are used, pain relief may last for a few months to a full year after the epidural is administered.
Epidural pain relief can be effective for short-term use, such as in childbirth, as well as for long-term use, including the treatment of neck and back pain. Some people do experience side effects of its use, however. For example, some people notice numbness in one of their legs after epidurals are administered. Others may experience lowered blood pressure or itchy skin. Some people may even have difficulty urinating after an epidural has been administered.