The lumbar epidural space in pregnancy: visualization by ultrasonography

Br J Anaesth. 2001 Jun;86(6):798-804. doi: 10.1093/bja/86.6.798.


Epidural anaesthesia is an important analgesia technique for obstetric delivery. During pregnancy, however, obesity and oedema frequently obscure anatomical landmarks. Using ultrasonography, we investigated the influence of these changes on spinal and epidural anatomy. We examined 53 pregnant women who were to receive epidural block for vaginal delivery or Caesarean section. The first ultrasound imaging was performed immediately before epidural puncture; the follow-up scan was done 9 months later. The ultrasound scan of the spinal column was performed at the L3/4 interspace in transverse and longitudinal planes, using a Sonoace 6000 ultrasonograph (Kretz, Marl, Germany) equipped with a 5.0-MHz curved array probe. We measured two distances from the skin to the epidural space: the minimum (perpendicular) and the maximum (oblique) needle trajectory. The quality of ultrasonic depiction was analysed by a numerical scoring system. An average weight reduction of 12.5 kg had occurred by the follow-up examination. During pregnancy, the optimum puncture site available on the skin for epidural space cannulation was smaller, the soft-tissue channel between the spinal processes was narrower, and the skin-epidural space distance was greater. The epidural space was narrower and deformed by the tissue changes. The visibility of the ligamentum flavum, of the dura mater and of the epidural space decreased significantly during pregnancy. Nevertheless, ultrasonography offered useful pre-puncture information. Thus far, palpation has been the only available technique to facilitate epidural puncture. Ultrasound imaging enabled us to assess the structures to be perforated. We anticipate that this technique will become valuable clinically.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anesthesia, Epidural / methods
  • Anesthesia, Obstetrical / methods
  • Dura Mater / diagnostic imaging*
  • Epidural Space / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ligamentum Flavum / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Prospective Studies
  • Spine / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler*