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Hydrodynamics of the Spinal Epidural Space in Pigs Determined by Constant-Flow Methods
  1. Charles W. Buffington, M.D. and
  2. Elisabet U.M. Nystrom, M.D., Ph.D.
  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
  1. Reprint requests: Charles W. Buffington, M.D., Department of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh, MUH N 463, 200 Lothrup Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 E-mail: Buffingtoncs{at}


Background and Objectives: Impressive quantities of fluid can be infused into the epidural space of the spine without causing dramatic or sustained increases in pressure. The epidural space is considered “leaky,” but questions remain about how fluid leaves the epidural space. We used constant-flow infusions of saline to gain insight into the hydrodynamics involved.

Methods: We infused saline at a constant rate into the lumbar epidural space of 6 anesthetized pigs while measuring pressure at the adjacent interspace. Three or 4 infusions were performed at different flow rates in each animal.

Results: Epidural space pressure in the absence of flow was consistently 2 to 3 mm Hg above right atrial pressure. During each infusion, pressure increased slowly to a steady plateau value between 15 and 70 mm Hg. When flow was stopped, pressure declined exponentially to the starting pressure. The presence of a plateau indicates that fluid leaving the epidural space ends up in a structure with high capacitance. Plateau pressures were linearly related to flow rate in each animal, indicating constant resistance to outflow. The flow-pressure relation showed neither a critical opening pressure nor moderating pressures with increased flow.

Conclusions: Fluid leaves the porcine spinal epidural space through channels that are open at baseline rather than being recruited as epidural pressure increases. This behavior is inconsistent with the view that the epidural space behaves like a Starling resistor.

  • Spinal epidural space
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Epiduroscopy
  • Starling resistor

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  • Presented at the 2004 ASA Meeting, Las Vegas, NV, October 23-27, 2004.