Epidural Pain Medication

Controlling your pain is important for many reasons. Pain control has been shown to improve recovery by aiding the natural healing process. You will be able to relax more easily and feel less anxious when you do not have fear of being in pain. This will help you increase your activity level and improve mobility, which aids in the healing process.

You are a full partner in the management of your pain. After all, only you know how you really feel.

Your health care team will be made up of doctors, nurses, and therapists. This team will depend on you to describe your pain in four ways:

  • What hurts?
  • Where does it hurt?
  • When does it hurt?
  • How much does it hurt?

You will be asked to rate your level of pain from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain you can imagine). Be assured that pain medications (including narcotics) are not addictive when properly managed for pain relief under a doctor’s care. Your doctor and nurse will work closely with you to help manage your pain.

What is an epidural?

An epidural (eh-pih-DOOR-ul) catheter is sometimes referred to as an “epidural.” It is a soft tube that is inserted into the epidural space, which is located near the spinal cord and backbone. An anesthesiologist (AN-es-THEE-zee-OL-oh-gist) inserts the tube into your back using a needle. The needle is removed and the tube is brought over your shoulder, labeled, and taped in place. You will receive pain medication prescribed by your doctor through a computerized pump. This pump, called an “epidural pump,” is mounted on a pole near your bed. It is programmed by the nurse to deliver medication continuously.

What are the benefits of this method of pain relief?

Many pain medications are given in the epidural space and act on the spinal cord. A very small amount of pain medicine inserted directly into the epidural space provides the same pain relief as a larger dose given via mouth or vein. Using less medicine decreases side effects. Some side effects can slow recovery. With an epidural, you will be awake and alert, but able to sleep when you wish.

How often will I receive pain medication?

Your pain medication will be given continuously by a pump. It will be adjusted to provide the pain relief that is right for you. Medication will be available for “breakthrough” pain, if you experience it. This will either be given after you press the patient pendant button attached to the epidural pump or when you request it from the nurse.

What if I have side effects?

Side effects from the pain medication can include:

  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Urinary retention
  • Feeling too sleepy
  • Confusion

If you experience any of these side effects, tell your nurse. Treatment for side effects is available.

What is best for me?

Open and honest communication with your nurses and doctors is the best guarantee that you will receive the pain control that is best for you. Do not hesitate to ask questions or raise concerns. Your nurses can contact your doctor 24 hours a day. ​


Reviewed July 2013

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences | Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit www.healthwise.org

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA | UPMC.com