What Is A Spinal Tap?

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: January 23, 2023

Spinal Cord Stimulation

If you know more about the band Spinal Tap than the procedure, you’re not alone. Millions of adults are more familiar with the band than the medical procedure, but we want to do our part to change that with today’s blog. Below, we’re going to take a closer look at the spinal tap procedure and share how the operation is performed and why someone may need to undergo a spinal tap.

Who Needs A Spinal Tap?

A spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture procedure, can be performed as part of the diagnostic or treatment process. A spine specialist can conduct a spinal tap to withdraw cerebrospinal fluid for additional testing, or they can administer anesthesia or medications directly into the spinal canal. When used for diagnostic purposes, a spinal tap and cerebrospinal fluid testing can help to diagnose conditions like meningitis, leukemia and other forms of cancer, or detect the presence of bacteria, fungi or cell abnormalities.

When used as part of a treatment plan, a spinal tap can be conducted to administer regional anesthesia, inject dye to aid in a specialized x-ray test, or deliver medications like muscle relaxers or cancer treatments.

How Is A Spinal Tap Performed?

A spinal tap procedure can be performed on an inpatient or outpatient basis, although you’ll need someone to drive you home if you are undergoing an outpatient procedure. During the operation, you will either be asked to lie on your side with your knees pulled up to your chin, or you may sit and lean forward with your arms and head resting on a table. Once you’re in position, your provider will clean the skin and inject a local anesthetic into the area in order to numb the region. Next, a thin, hollow needle is inserted between two vertebrae in the lower part of your spine. Fluid is either drawn or an injection is delivered to the site. The needle is then carefully withdrawn before the site is cleaned and the puncture is covered with a bandage.

You’ll either remain on the table or be taken to a recovery room for at least an hour with hopes that the internal puncture site clots and seals so that cerebrospinal fluid does not leak. Most people do not experience any complications with the injection, but about 10 percent may experience what’s known as a spinal headache, which can be the result of a cerebrospinal fluid leak. Oftentimes these headaches resolve on their own as the body eventually patches the puncture site, but to help prevent their onset, you’ll want to avoid significant physical activity for 24-48 hours or as directed by your physician.

If the spinal tap was used as part of a diagnostic plan, you should expect your lab results within a week, but your provider can give you a more accurate timeline before you are discharged after the spinal tap. Most patients experience fantastic results with a spinal tap procedure, but you’ll want to reach out to your provider if you are experiencing severe headaches or symptoms associated with an infection during your recovery period.

For more information about the spinal tap procedure, or to talk to a spine specialist about any back discomfort you’re experiencing, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and the team at The Midwest Spine & Brain Institute today at (651) 430-3800.

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