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Spinal taps are performed to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the clear fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Your body maintains CSF at a certain pressure, which allows it to protect the brain and spinal cord from damage.
The medical term for a spinal tap is lumbar puncture because CSF is taken from the lumbar, or lower back area, of the spine. In this location, the CSF is most accessible, and the risk of needle injury to the spinal cord itself is the lowest.
Dignity Health Neurological Institute of Northern California has experienced neurologists, anesthesiologists, specialized nurses, and physician assistants that can perform spinal taps in Sacramento, CA or a surrounding area. Find a Doctor near you or call our physician referral line at 1.888.800.7688.
Our neurologists perform a spinal tap to investigate a number of conditions, including:
We also perform lumbar punctures to deliver medications directly to the spinal cord area.
A spinal tap is normally performed in a Dignity Health hospital and takes about 45 minutes. You will either lie on your side with your knees drawn up toward your chest or sit on the edge of the exam table with your legs dangling and your chin tucked. Your doctor will carefully cleanse the puncture location with an antiseptic liquid. You may receive an injection of numbing medication. This may sting for a moment.
Your doctor will insert a thin spinal needle. You may feel pressure or brief pain as the needle punctures the tissue surrounding the spinal cord. Once the needle is in place, your doctor will record the CSF pressure and withdraw a sample of fluid. Your doctor also will inject any necessary medications at this time. Lastly, your doctor will remove the needle and cover the puncture site with a bandage.
Because a lumbar puncture involves the risk of bleeding around the spinal cord, your doctor will monitor you for several minutes after the procedure. You will have to lie flat on your back in order to put pressure on the puncture site and reduce the risk of bleeding or leaking CSF. You may need to rest the remainder of the day at home.
The most common complication of a spinal tap is headache. This likely occurs from the temporary change in intracranial pressure caused by the spinal tap. You should report a headache or any other new symptoms to your doctor. Trust our expert team to guide you through every step of the procedure and offer personal care.