Should You Ask For An Epidural For Pain Relief After Surgery?

If you're like most people, you'd do anything to avoid having to undergo surgery for any reason. The fact of the matter is, life happens, and sometimes having to consider surgery as a treatment option is unavoidable. Every year, 310 million major surgeries are performed worldwide, according to a 2020 article published in the International Journal of Surgery. There are significant risks associated with surgery, despite its global commonality. Around the world, the number of deaths caused by postoperative surgery is estimated to be 8 million per year and accounted for 14% of deaths in 2018. 

Even in less drastic cases, it's not uncommon to experience pain after surgery. As reported by the Cleveland Clinic, it's even possible to feel discomfort in areas where the surgery wasn't performed. From lying on the operating table, someone may feel pain in their neck, shoulders, back, or chest after surgery. They may have difficulty sitting up or walking and can experience increased pain when trying to do so. According to the British Pain Society, the pain experienced after surgery is referred to as acute pain, and it usually subsides as you heal. There are approaches to relieve acute pain after surgery, varying from medication to self-care practices.

An epidural may be thought of as an anesthetic given to women during labor, but it can also be used to provide pain relief during surgery (per Cleveland Clinic). Should you request an epidural or another type of pain reliever if you still have pain after surgery?

Can an epidural help with pain after surgery?

During an epidural, an intravenous cannula (drip) will be placed in your vein by an anesthesiologist (per Patient). Afterward, you'll receive a local anesthetic injection either lying down or sitting up. You'll then have a thin catheter placed into the epidural space of your back that will remain there after the needle is removed.

Epidurals are used as a pain relief option before and after surgery, but are they a good method? It turns out that epidurals appear to have benefits after surgery, and may be more effective than other methods. According to the Royal College of Anaesthetists, those receiving epidurals for pain may experience greater pain relief, feeling less discomfort when breathing, coughing, and moving than those receiving other forms of pain relief. There may be a decreased risk for surgical complications, such as blood clots in the legs or lung and chest infections. Additionally, an epidural may relieve the bowel problems that some individuals experience after surgery (per National Institute for Health and Care Research).

Like other methods, there are potential side effects of an epidural, like headaches and the inability to urinate, or temporary or permanent nerve damage in rare cases (per Patient). In addition, someone may experience numbness and tingling or need a urinary catheter placed in their bladder if they are unable to urinate, as reported by Oxford University Hospitals. Therefore, it's crucial to discuss your treatment options with a doctor and weigh your options carefully.