When is a Spinal Tap Helpful?

Category: Procedures, Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: April 24, 2014

spinal tapNo, not the rockumentary about a fictional 80’s rock band. A spinal tap is actually a medical procedure performed by spine specialists for a number of reasons. In this article we will explain what a spinal tap is, and how they can be useful in diagnosing and treating conditions of the spine.

What is a Spinal Tap?

Also known as a lumbar puncture, a spinal tap is a procedure in which the spinal column is “tapped” to extract cerebrospinal fluid or to inject medications. The procedure is rather simple. The patient is placed on their side, or asked to sit down and lean forward while tucking their knees to their chest. Once the area around the lower back is cleaned and disinfected, a local anesthetic is applied along the path of the needle so the patient feels as little pain as possible. Then a spinal needle is inserted into the spinal column and used to extract the spinal fluid.

When a Spinal Tap is Helpful

Spinal taps can be useful to diagnose a certain condition, or treat a certain condition. The most common reason for undergoing a spinal tap is for diagnostic reasons. Spinal taps are a great method for checking if a patient has any diseases of the central nervous system such as meningitis. Once the spinal fluid is extracted it is analyzed for cell count, and levels of other substances like glucose and protein.

In rarer cases, spinal taps can be used for therapeutic reasons, including chemotherapy.


Spinal taps can be relatively painful despite the anesthesia applied. Additionally, spinal headaches and nausea are common symptoms following the procedure. There are methods to reduce these complications. If you are worried about pain during the procedure or post-operative complications, talk with your physician about your concerns.

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