Many types of pain are caused by issues that affect the body’s nervous system. The spinal cord serves as the central component of the nervous system and acts as a superhighway, transporting sensory information collected by nerves spread throughout the body to the brain, where those messages can be processed. When inflammation or conditions such as a bulging disc are present, nerves are placed under abnormal levels of pressure and can be adversely affected. That can lead to significant levels of pain and an inability to move through the course of a normal day. By injecting medication into the area surrounding damaged or inflamed nerves, many patients are able to achieve quick relief from back, neck, shoulder and arm pain. The medications used during an epidural usually consist of an anti-inflammatory and an anesthetic, which are mixed together into a solution.
The process of receiving an epidural is relatively straightforward. First, the skin around the injection site will be thoroughly cleaned to reduce the risk of infection. Next, an anesthetic is given to numb the area of the skin where the needle will be inserted. Then, a larger needle is carefully guided toward the spinal cord. The medical professional performing the epidural uses equipment that provides real-time imaging to guide the needle for proper placement. Contrast dye is used to ensure that the needle has entered the space between the spine and the spinal cord. Once the proper positioning has been achieved, the medicine solution is injected.
While epidurals offer a significant reduction in pain for many patients, not everyone is a good candidate for this procedure. Specifically, individuals with a local or systemic infection or those experiencing bleeding problems may not find epidurals to be suited to their specific set of needs. Women who are pregnant should discuss the type of X-ray technology that will be used during an epidural to ensure that the procedure is safe for both mother and child.