Banner Health
Making healthcare easier

Spinal Tap

What is a Spinal Tap?

Spinal tap, also known as lumbar puncture, is a procedure where a needle is placed between lumbar bones to remove cerebrospinal fluid for testing. This procedure can be used to help rule out infections around the brain and spinal cord, as well as to detect tumors and autoimmune diseases. This procedure may also be used to inject dye for x-ray tests, inject medications or relieve pressure in the head.

Spinal Tap Risk Factors

Since spinal tap involves two important areas, the brain and the spinal cord, it’s important to know the possible risk factors. Spinal tap or lumbar puncture risk factors can include:

  • Short term numbness in the lower body
  • Risk of infection due to opening where the needle entered
  • Headaches caused by cerebrospinal fluid leaking
  • Back pain
  • Bleeding near the puncture site

Discuss any concerns you have with your doctor before the spinal tap procedure.

How to Prepare for a Spinal Tap

While there is little needed to prepare for a spinal tap, it’s important to be aware of your do’s and don’ts before the procedure.

  • Make sure to drink a lot of fluid leading up to the spinal tap, but do not to drink or eat three hours before the procedure
  • Tell your doctor if you are not feeling well or have a fever as your spinal tap may need to be rescheduled
  • Make sure to bring someone with you the day of the procedure as you cannot drive for 24 hours

Your doctor can give specific instructions about any medications you may be taking so make sure to discuss your medications before the procedure.

What to Expect During a Spinal Tap

During the spinal tap procedure, your doctor will have you lie on your side and may have you bring your knees toward your chest. Once the area on your back is sterile, you will be given a local anesthetic. A needle will then be placed in between two vertebrae into the spinal canal. While a spinal tap is not painful, you may feel pressure or discomfort or get a headache. Once the fluid is drawn, the opening will be covered with a bandage.

Spinal Tap After Care & Side Effects

After your spinal tap procedure, it’s important not to perform any rigorous exercise for a day or two after the procedure. Drink plenty of fluids, around 2 quarts, after your spinal tap as well as the next day.

If you are experiencing a fever, a headache that will not go away or see unusual fluid where the spinal tap was performed, call your doctor immediately.