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An epidural is a type of pain-killing injection given by an anaesthetist.

What is an epidural injection?

Anaesthetic or steriods are injected into an area called the epidural space which is around and below the spinal cord. The nerves that carry pain sensations are blocked below the level of the injection.

What types of epidural injections are available?

The type of injection you will receive depends on where it is given.

What happens during an epidural?

Staff will help you lie on your side with your knees drawn up to your tummy and your chin tucked in or to sit up and lean forward. Both positions straighten and stretch the spine and the spinal cord.

The anaesthetist will carefully select a point to inject by feeling for specific bones in the spine and hips. A small amount of local anaesthetic is injected into the skin around the chosen point. After a minute or so when the skin is numb the anaesthetist will insert the larger epidural needle through the skin and towards the spine. When the needle reaches the space around the spinal cord, a fine plastic tube is inserted through the bore of the needle. The needle is then removed, leaving the plastic tube in place running from the area around the spinal cord through the skin to the outside. The tube is stuck to the back with sticking plaster and the anaesthetist can then inject anaesthetic drugs down this tube.

Whilst the anaesthetist is preparing the site for the injection you will need to stay very still. Once you have received the injection the anaesthetist will ask you to lie on one side and then the other to spread the anaesthetic evenly round the spinal cord. The whole procedure usually takes 15 - 30 minutes.

How long will I need to stay in Hospital?

The length of stay in hospital will be determined by the reason for the epidural. You will not be allowed to leave until you are fully able to move about on your own.

What are the possible complications?

Side effects of an epidural injection may include:

  • Failure of the epidural
  • Increased pain
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Temporary leg or arm weakness
  • Backache

Rare reactions to an epidural injection can include:

  • Seizures
  • Infection around the spine
  • Nerve injury
  • Blood clot in the spine

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