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Spinal and Epidural Anesthesia: Care Instructions

Spinal and epidural anesthesia: Overview

Spinal and epidural anesthesia are used to block pain from an entire area of the body. They're often used for surgeries on the belly, pelvis, or legs. They may also be used in childbirth or to control pain after surgery.

For spinal anesthesia, a single shot of medicine is given near the spinal cord. For epidural anesthesia, medicine is usually given through a small tube (catheter) that's inserted into the area near the spinal cord. This tube is left in place so that more medicine can be given as needed.

Sometimes both types are used. Spinal offers quick pain relief. Then the epidural can offer relief for longer.

Side effects can include a headache, nausea, or soreness at the injection site. In rare cases, nerve damage can cause long-term weakness or numbness. Serious side effects are rare.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Follow all instructions from your doctor about how to take care of the area that was numbed.
  • Be careful not to injure the area while it's still numb.
    • If you move the area, move it slowly and carefully.
    • Be careful with hot and cold. Since you won't feel pain, it's easier for damage from heat or cold to happen.
  • If your doctor leaves a small tube in place to help you stay numb after your procedure, follow your doctor's instructions about how to use it and take care of it.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse back pain.
  • You have increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness at the injection site.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a new or worse headache.
  • You have a stiff neck.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your legs or groin.
  • You have trouble urinating or can pass only very small amounts of urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.