Epidural Analgesia FAQs

You can take pain medicine through a small soft tube placed in the epidural space in your back. That space is close to the nerves that sense pain, especially pain in your chest, abdomen, back, and legs. Because the pain medicine is given so close to pain-sensing nerves, a small dose of the medicine usually gives very good pain relief. The epidural tube is usually left in your back until your pain is controlled with pills taken by mouth. It does not hurt when the nurse removes the epidural tube. A big advantage of this method is that the small dose of medicine will allow you to be awake and alert as well as comfortable. This helps you to get out of bed sooner, do your breathing exercises, and get your strength back faster.

How does epidural pain control work?

A doctor can place a small soft tube in your epidural space in your back. That space is close to the nerves that sense pain. It may not be possible to relieve all of your pain but medicine put in the epidural space usually gives you very good pain control. You should be able to take deep breaths, cough, move about, and rest.

When will the epidural tube be put in my back?

Usually the epidural tube is put in just before you go into the operating room. This lets the doctor give you some pain medicine before you wake up as well as in the days after your surgery.

What is the advantage of using the epidural route for giving pain medicine?

Placing the pain medicine into the epidural space usually provides a better quality of constant pain relief than other methods of analgesia . Also, lower doses of the drugs can be used than with other routes such as IV or IM "shots." This helps to avoid some side effects such as nausea and excessive sleepiness.

What if I get sick at my stomach or itch from the pain medicine?

You may not have these side effects of pain medicine. If you do the doctor can give you another medicine that will control the sick feeling or itching. Tell your nurse about this right away as it is easier to treat when it is mild.

If the medicine runs all the time, can I get too much?

The rate for the pain medicine can be turned up or down, depending on how you respond. Your nurse will be looking for signs that the rate needs to be changed. If you are too sleepy, the rate may need to be turned down. If you are not getting enough pain relief, the rate may need to be turned up or maybe another drug will be used.

Can I get out of bed and walk while connected to the epidural tube and pump?

Yes, the epidural tube will be connected to a pump that can be hung on a "rolling pole" so you can move about. Your doctor will say when you can get out of bed after your surgery and your nurse will help you.

When will the epidural tube be taken out of my back?

Your doctor will talk with you about the best time to stop the epidural pain medicine. This depends on what kind of surgery you have had and how soon you are able to drink liquids. It does not hurt for the doctor or nurse to take the epidural tube out.

Will I have a lot of pain after the epidural tube is out?

After the epidural is out most patients take pills for pain and get good relief. Tell your nurse if you do not get relief as the dose may need to be changed or another drug used. You do need to take the pills when your pain is mild as it takes about 30 minutes for the pills to work.