Difference Between Epidural and Spinal

When reaching a point where the best option for meaningful relief is minimally invasive spinal surgery, Santa Monica patients have several decisions to make. One will be the type of procedure that’s right for each individual. Another important decision will involve the type of anesthesia used during the procedure. Spinal and epidural anesthesia are the most common possibilities with regional anesthesia, an increasingly popular alternative to general anesthesia. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between spinal and epidural anesthesia and how regional anesthesia differs from general anesthesia.

What Is Spinal Anesthesia?

Spinal anesthesia is injected directly into the spinal canal. Inserted into the lower (lumbar) portion of the spine, this type of anesthesia results in a loss of sensation in the lower half of the body below where the injection is placed. Specifically, the injection goes into the fluid around the spinal cord. Patients usually experience rapid lower body numbing with spinal anesthesia.

What Is Epidural Anesthesia?

Epidural anesthesia is administered in a way similar to what’s done with an epidural injection for diagnostic or pain-relief purposes. The injection is placed into the epidural space, an area around the spinal cord between the vertebral wall and a membrane known as the dura mater. Patients often benefit from better post-op pain control with this type of anesthesia. Also placed into the lower part of the spine, epidural injections can be more difficult to administer to the correct location than spinal anesthesia blocks.

How Do Anesthesia Blocks Differ from General Anesthesia?

Spinal and epidural blocks are regional anesthetics, meaning loss of sensation is limited to the part of the body where the procedure will take place. The other common option for patients is general anesthesia, which involves numbing the entire body. Sedatives are typically used with both types of regional anesthesia, so patients are not usually awake with either option. However, general anesthesia goes further than putting a patient to sleep. General anesthesia also requires:

  • Constant monitoring of breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Administering a proper amount of medication for the duration of the procedure to keep the patient fully sedated
  • Careful observation after the procedure as the effects wear off
  • Overnight hospitalization (most of the time)

What Are the Possible Benefits of Regional Anesthesia?

In recent years, there has been a shift toward using regional anesthesia like spinal and epidural blocks whenever possible. The lighter sedation often used with regional anesthesia means patients aren’t placed into a deep state of unconsciousness, which may present health risks for some individuals. Additional benefits patients may enjoy from the use of regional anesthesia include:

  • Fewer instances of post-operative nausea
  • Reduced risk if there are underlying health issues that may be affected by heavy sedation
  • Less risk of experiencing anesthesia-related complications
  • No airway or throat irritation since regional anesthesia is administered directly into the affected area and does not require the insertion of a tube into the mouth and down into the throat

Medications you are taking for other conditions could also affect how you react to any type of anesthesia used during your procedure. For this reason, it’s important to let your Santa Monica spine surgeon and anesthesiologist know about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you may be currently taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. Patients are typically also asked to stop smoking and avoid alcohol consumption prior to surgery.

At The Spine Institute, we specialize in a wide variety of fusion and non-fusion procedures, from XLIF surgery to lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica residents can rely on Dr. Bae and his team of professional surgeons to help them find the relief they need. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.