Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Local anaesthesia is commonly used in dental procedures

Local anaesthesia is commonly used in dental procedures
beginning of content

Local anaesthetic

2-minute read

A local anaesthetic is a type of medicine used to temporarily numb a part of your body. Unlike a general anaesthetic, local anaesthetics do not cause the loss of consciousness. When a local anaesthetic takes effect you will feel no pain, but may still sense pressure or movement.

How local anaesthetic works

A local anaesthetic works by blocking the nerves from the affected part of your body, so that pain signals cannot be transmitted to your brain. The numbing effect usually occurs within minutes and may last for a few hours.

Types and uses of local anaesthetic

A local anaesthetic is usually the choice for surgery on small areas of your body, such as minor skin surgery or the extraction of a wisdom tooth. It may also be used with a general anaesthetic to improve pain relief after surgery.

Topical anaesthetic

Topical anaesthetics are available as liquids, creams or ointments, and are used on the surface of the body. For instance, some types of eye surgery can be performed using eye drops containing local anaesthetic. Some topical anaesthetics are available over-the-counter.

Epidural and spinal anaesthesia

Epidural and spinal anaesthetics are often used to stop pain during labour or caesarean sections. An epidural block and a spinal block both involve the injection of local anaesthetic into the spine.

Nerve block

A nerve block involves injecting local anaesthetic around a cluster of nerves that supply a particular part of the body, such as the arm or the leg. These numb a large area. Nerve blocks may be used during and after surgery, for example on the hip or knee.

Preparing for a local anaesthetic

All anaesthetics have risks so talk to your doctor beforehand about your options. Discuss any medical conditions or allergies you have. You can also ask about how to manage the pain after the local anaesthetic has worn off.

Last reviewed: December 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Duration of Anaesthesia

How long will the local anaesthetic effect last? This depends on the type of local anaesthetic used and the region of the body into which it is injected.

Read more on ANZCA – Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website


Epidural is highly effective local anaesthetic procedure includes injectind anaesthetic around the spinal nerves in your lower back.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Epidurals for pain relief in labour | Cochrane

Pain relief is important for women in labour. Pharmacological methods of pain relief include inhalation of nitrous oxide, injection of opioids and regional analgesia with an epidural for a central nerve block. Epidurals are widely used for pain relief in labour and involve an injection of a local anaesthetic into the lower region of the spine close to the nerves that transmit pain. Epidural solutions are given by bolus injection, continuous infusion or using a patient-controlled pump. Lower concentrations of local anaesthetic are needed when they are given together with an opiate, allowing women to maintain the ability to move around during labour and to bear down. Epidural analgesia may sometimes give inadequate analgesia, which may be due to non-uniform spread of local anaesthetic. Combined spinal-epidural involves a single injection of local anaesthetic or opiate into the cerebral spinal fluid for fast onset of pain relief as well as insertion of the epidural catheter for continuing pain relief. Side effects such as itchiness, drowsiness, shivering and fever have been reported and rare but potentially severe adverse effects of epidural analgesia do occur.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Spinal Anaesthesia | myVMC

For information on spinal anaesthesia or epidural anaesthesia.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Epidurals and breastfeeding | Australian Breastfeeding Association

How does an epidural work?With an epidural, a small plastic tube is inserted between the bones of your spine, into the space around your spinal cord. A combination of drugs is given through the tube. A local anaesthetic blocks nerves in the spinal cord that transmit pain signals and an opiate provides further pain relief.

Read more on Australian Breastfeeding Association website

Anaesthesia and day surgery | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is general anaesthesia? A general anaesthetic is a mixture of medicines that put your child into a deep sleep during which they will not be aware or feel pain

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

What is anaesthesia? ANZCA

The word anaesthesia is coined from two Greek words: "an" meaning "without" and "aesthesis" meaning "sensation". There are various types of anaesthesia.

Read more on ANZCA – Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website

Nerve Blocks (Regional Anaesthesia) | myVMC

Medical information about nerve blocks regional anaesthesia for treatment of pain

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Different kinds of anaesthesia - ANZCA

Read more on ANZCA – Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists website

Epidural analgesia (childbirth pain relief) information | myVMC

Epidural analgesia or epidural injection is a form of labour pain management. Pain relief medications are injected into the spine.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo