Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap)

What is a Lumbar Puncture?

A lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap, is a medical procedure used to obtain a sample of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) for cellular analysis, chemical analysis, and bacteriologic examination. During the spinal tap procedure, a measurement of cerebral spinal fluid pressure may be obtained.

How is a Lumbar Puncture Performed?

A spinal tap procedure is performed using a sterile technique and local anesthetic. A special spinal needle is inserted in the lumbar region of the spine (lower back), hence the name "lumbar puncture." Generally, the patient lies on his or her side. The procedure is mildly painful but usually tolerated well. A few cc's of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) are removed, and the cerebral spinal fluid is rapidly replaced by the brain. Following the procedure, it is best for the patient to lie quietly in bed. Consumption of moderate quantities of fluid is encouraged.

What are the Complications of a Lumbar Puncture?

Occasionally, severe headaches will occur even with the best of precautions. Typically, the headaches are better in the recumbent, or lying position, and worse in the upright position. The best management of these headaches is to stay horizontal as long as necessary, keeping well hydrated. If headaches occur following the spinal tap, please call our office to speak with the doctor (or midlevel provider) who performed the procedure or the covering doctor. As with any medical procedure, complications of infection (including meningitis) or hemorrhagic bleeding complications may potentially occur but are very rare.

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