A randomised controlled trial of epidural compared with non-epidural analgesia in labour

BJOG. 2001 Jan;108(1):27-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2001.00012.x.


Objectives: To investigate possible short and long term side effects of epidural analgesia, compared with non-epidural analgesia for pain relief in labour.

Design: Randomised controlled study, with long term follow up by questionnaire. Analysis by intention-to-treat.

Setting: Busy maternity unit within a district general hospital in England.

Participants: Three hundred and sixty nine primigravid women in labour were included (randomised allocation: epidural n = 184, non-epidural n = 185).

Main outcome measures: Backache at three and twelve months after delivery, instrumental delivery rates and maternal opinion of pain relief in labour.

Results: No significant differences were found in the reported incidence of backache between the groups at three months: middle backache [22% vs 20%, chi2 = 0.057, P = 0.81; odds ratio (95% CI) 1.4(0.9-2.3)]; low backache [35% vs 34%, chi2 = 0.009, P = 0.92; odds ratio (95% CI) 1.0(0.6-1.6)]. Nor were there significant differences at 12 months: [middle backache 16% vs 16%, chi2 = 0.013, P = 0.91; odds ratio (95% CI) 1.0(0.5-1.8)]; or low backache [35% vs 27%, chi2 = 1.91, P = 0.17; odds ratio (95% CI) 1.4(0.9-2.3)]. The incidence of instrumental delivery was somewhat higher in the epidural group [30% vs 19%, odds ratio (95% CI) 1.77(1.09-2.86)]. Maternal satisfaction was not significantly different between the groups.

Conclusions: This study provided no evidence to support the suggestion of a direct association between the use of epidural anaesthesia in labour and the incidence of long term backache. Despite a significant proportion of women in each group not receiving their allocated analgesia, a significant difference in terms of instrumental delivery rates remained. Satisfaction in both groups of women was high.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesia, Epidural / adverse effects*
  • Analgesia, Obstetrical / adverse effects*
  • Anesthetics, Local / adverse effects*
  • Back Pain / etiology*
  • Bupivacaine / adverse effects*
  • Extraction, Obstetrical / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / prevention & control
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data
  • Pregnancy


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Bupivacaine