If An Epidural Only Relieves Pain On One Side Of Your Body, There May Be An Easy Solution

During childbirth, some individuals may opt for an epidural to help relieve the physical pain experienced. Although not meant to numb the body entirely, an epidural works by lessening the discomfort caused by contractions, according to the University of North Carolina School of Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology. Rather, patients often still feel pressure in the vagina or rectum as the delivery progresses, which is important so they know when they will need to push.

When receiving an epidural, the insertion process lasts approximately ten minutes. The anesthesiologist first uses a local anesthetic to numb the insertion area, and then inserts a needle into the patient's lower back between their spinal bones. It is in this spot that a tiny catheter tube will be inserted, though which pain relief medicine will be administered throughout the delivery process.

Generally, the effects of an epidural should be felt within 10-15 minutes after insertion. While uncommon, the UNC School of Medicine explains that 5% of the time, patients may only feel the effects of an epidural on one side of their body. However, this doesn't necessarily mean the epidural needs to be reinserted all over again from the start.

Factors that influence the success of an epidural

When it comes to the successful insertion of an epidural, the physical positioning of the patient is important, according to findings from a 2012 study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia that looked into primary causes for failed epidurals.

In preparation for an epidural, the patient is situated either horizontally on one side or in a seated position. According to the study, epidural insertion is often quicker in the seated position and appears to have a greater success rate on the first attempt compared to when a patient is lying down. However, both positions have a similar overall success rate.

Alternatively, the study team also highlighted how movement of the catheter after it has been properly placed can also be a contributing factor in a failed epidural. For this reason, experts at the UNC School of Medicine advise against dragging or sliding down on one's lower back while in the hospital bed, as doing so could dislodge the catheter. However, when patients only experience pain relief on one side of their body, it may also be caused by an opposite problem: too little movement. One-sided pain relief can sometimes happen as a result of a patient having remained stationary in one position for a prolonged period of time (via Romper). 

Your doctor may reposition you

If you find that an epidural is only providing you with one-sided pain relief, experts say that the situation can often be remedied through a simple repositioning of the body. "The denser, one-sided block can be resolved by changing the patients' position to a more neutral position," OB-GYN Dr. Lakeisha Richardson tells Romper. "Or, if position changes do not help, the catheter can always be readjusted or replaced."

Alternatively, the anesthesiologist may also be able to step in and correct the problem, according to the UNC School of Medicine. While there can be technical issues that may prevent an anesthesiologist from being able to properly insert the needle into a patient's epidural space, such incidents are considered highly unlikely. After the fact, it is not uncommon for patients who have received an epidural to experience temporary side effects, such as lingering numbness in the legs, headache, back tenderness, itching, or short-lived increases in temperature, amongst others.

Ultimately, every person's birthing plan will be unique to them. Some people may ask for an epidural, while others may prefer no pain-relief medication whatsoever. To better understand all the options available, be sure to speak with your doctor, who can help answer any questions you may have.