A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, is a procedure used to obtain a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for testing. CSF acts like a cushion, protecting your brain and spine from injury. The fluid is normally clear. The test is also used to measure pressure in the spinal fluid.
A lumbar puncture is also used to administer some chemotherapy drugs. The medications are injected directly through the lumbar puncture and into the cerebrospinal fluid where they flow freely to the brain and spinal cord.
Tell your doctor or nurse practitioner if you are taking any type of prescription or over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or herbal supplements that may affect your blood’s ability to clot. This would include aspirin, warfarin/Coumadin®, Lovenox®, heparin, Plavix®, ibuprofen/Advil®, and naproxen/Aleve®. Your doctor may want you to stop these medications a few days before your procedure.
Occasionally, special x-rays are used to help guide the needle into the proper position. This is called fluoroscopy.
The position may be a little uncomfortable, but it is extremely important that you remain in this position and stay very still. If you move, you may cause the needle to move, which could possibly injure the spinal cord. The anesthetic is likely to sting or burn when first injected. Once the area is numb, you will only feel a hard pressure sensation when the needle is inserted. There is usually some brief pain when the needle goes through the tissue surrounding the spinal cord but it should stop in a few seconds. Overall, the discomfort is minimal to moderate. The actual pressure measurements and fluid collection only take a few minutes.
Your doctor may ask you to increase your fluid intake and to lie flat for 2-4 hours after the procedure to help prevent a spinal headache. (A spinal headache gets worse when you sit up or move around but lessens or goes away when you lay down.) You can remove the bandage over the insertion site after 24 hours.
Spinal headaches may occur in some people up to 12 hours after the procedure. Lying flat and drinking extra fluids may help prevent or lessen these headaches. Please call us if your headache lasts more than 1 day. Less common risks include allergic reaction (to the anesthetic), bleeding, damage to the spinal cord (particularly if you move during the procedure), and infection.
For the quickest recovery, and to help avoid a spinal headache:
Call your doctor if you have: