Epidural Catheter for Back Surgery
This handout explains the types of anesthesia used for back surgery. It is important to
partner with your surgeon and anesthesia doctor to choose the best pain relief for you.
The two types of anesthesia used for microdisc or ALIF back surgery are general and
regional. Both are safe and good choices. Your options will be discussed with you on the
day of surgery.
ξ General: You will be fully asleep and have a breathing tube. At the end of surgery,
we will take the breathing tube out and wake you up.
ξ Regional: Epidural blocks are used. Medicine is put in your back that will stop the
feeling in your legs for 2-3 hours. You will also get medicine to help you nap.
Most people do not remember their surgery; but, depending on your level of
sedation, there is a chance you could. Note: an epidural catheter is not the same as
an epidural steroid shot.
Will I be awake? You will be fully asleep and
have a breathing tube.
You will be given
medicine to help you nap
but will not be fully asleep.
Pros You will be fully asleep and
will not remember anything
You will not be fully
asleep and will not need a
breathing tube. This can
help reduce nausea, have
better pain control and
wake up faster after
Cons You may feel nauseous and
sleepy when you wake up
You will have to wait for
the numbness to wear off
What to Expect
Some things are the same whether you
have general anesthesia or an epidural.
This is where you will start your day.
While in this area, you will:
1. Talk about your health and
anesthesia plan with your
2. Have an IV placed
3. Meet the OR nurses and the rest of
4. Get medicine in your IV to help
The Operating Room
This is where the surgery takes place.
When in the OR, you will:
1. Be moved onto a bed and have
2. Confirm your name, birthday,
surgery, and allergies with the
With General Anesthesia You Will:
3. Take deep breaths of oxygen and
get IV medicine that will make you
4. Have a breathing tube put in after
you fall asleep.
5. Be positioned on your stomach.
Your arm, neck, and legs will be
well supported and cushioned.
6. Wake up when surgery is over and
have the breathing tube pulled out.
People often do not remember
anything until the recovery room.
7. Have a nurse manage any issues
that arise when you get to the
An epidural is a small catheter or tube
placed just outside the spinal cord
(called the epidural space). It helps
medicine get close to the nerve roots and
numb nerves that supply feeling to the
area you are having surgery on and to
help with pain. They work the same as
the medicine dentists use to numb your
The Steps of Getting an Epidural
1. You will be taken to the OR and
asked lay on your stomach.
2. You will get medicine in your IV to
help you nap during surgery.
3. Your back is cleaned with germ-free
4. A numbing medicine is placed in
your skin where the needle will go.
5. The needle is gently pushed into
your back and the small, plastic
catheter is placed (this catheter is
about the width of a guitar string).
You should feel very little pain
6. The needle is taken out and the
plastic catheter is taped in place.
7. It is okay to lie on your back after
this is placed.
8. With an epidural, you may not have
to go to the recovery room and can
go back to your pre-op room.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call
if you have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with
your doctor. This is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical
condition. Because each person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on
your health care team when using this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©
9/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the
Department of Nursing HF#7294.