A lumbar puncture or a spinal tap is a common diagnostic procedure that is performed on the lower back. During the procedure, the patient lies on his/her side while the doctor inserts a needle between two of the patient’s vertebra (lumbar bones). The purpose of the procedure is to remove a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid. Lumbar punctures can help doctors diagnose a variety of different diseases such as meningitis and other conditions like Guillain-Barre syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Finally, pain physicians may use a lumbar puncture to inject anesthetics or other medications into your cerebrospinal fluid in order to help relieve a variety of types of pain.
Before you undergo the procedure, it’s important to understand the risks. A lumbar puncture is recognized as a very safe procedure. However, as with any procedure, there are always some risks. The two most common risks are a post-lumbar puncture headache and back pain.
Around 25% of patients suffer from a headache after the procedure is completed. A headache can start up to two days after the procedure and can sometimes last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Sometimes, the headache can be accompanied by nausea and dizziness. Back pain is also a possibility. You may feel some tenderness and the pain may radiate down the back of your legs.
One of the first things the doctor will do is inject local anesthesia to the area of the back where the procedure will be performed. You may feel a very brief sting during this step. Then, a very thin needle which is hollow on the inside will be inserted between two of your lower back vertebrae. Finally, some cerebrospinal fluid is taken out. Once the doctor has removed the needle, the puncture area will be covered with a bandage. The entire procedure will likely last around 40 minutes.
After the procedure, you should get plenty of rest and avoid any physical activity. If you suffer from a headache, take a nonprescription pain reliever which contains acetaminophen to help reduce it. Your healthcare provider will most likely give you the test results within a few days after the procedure has been completed.
If you are suffering from chronic back pain, a spinal tap may help. Contact one of our New Jersey pain physicians today for more information or book an appointment at one of our locations.