Epidural anesthesia is the injection of a numbing medicine into the space around the spinal nerves in the lower back. The medicine numbs the body below and sometimes above the point of injection. The person may remain awake and may have some control of the numbed area.
The skin where a needle will be inserted is first numbed with a local anesthetic. Next, the needle is inserted, and a catheter is threaded through the needle into the epidural space. Then the needle is removed, while the catheter stays in place. The anesthetic is then delivered through the catheter. Medicine that makes the person sleepy also may be used by injecting it into a vein, depending on the procedure being done.
Epidural anesthesia may be used for certain types of surgery on the lower body or to control pain during childbirth. When a woman has an epidural anesthetic during childbirth, she will feel much less pain from her contractions.