A spinal tap (lumbar puncture) is a test that checks the health of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is a fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The test also measures the pressure in the spinal canal. The healthcare provider does an LP by putting a needle into the lower back area. He or she removes a small sample of CSF from the spinal canal to be tested in a lab. The test does not damage the spinal cord or nerves. Within a few hours, your child’s body will make new fluid to replace what is removed. The test usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
A spinal tap may be done for many reasons. It may be done to diagnose problems such as:
A spinal tap may be used to measure the pressure of the CSF. To do this, the healthcare provider uses a special tube called a manometer.
A spinal tap may also be done to inject medicine directly into the spinal cord. These medicines include:
Your child’s healthcare provider may have other reasons to recommend a spinal tap.
Most medical procedures have some risks. Risks of a spinal tap include:
Follow all instructions given by the healthcare provider to prepare your child for the test.
If anesthesia will be used during the test, your child may not eat or drink for a certain number of hours before the test. Follow any directions your child is given for not eating or drinking before the test.
Tell your child’s healthcare provider:
Many hospitals have people trained in helping children cope with their medical care or hospital experience. These people are often called child life specialists. Check with your child’s healthcare provider if child life programs or other similar services are available for your child. You can also do certain things to help your child get ready for a test or procedure. How best to do this depends on your child’s needs. Start with the tips below:
Your child needs to lie still during the test. If this will be difficult for your child, he or she may be given sedative medicine. This will help your child stay calm during the test. Anesthesia is also an option. This is medicine that causes your child to fall asleep and not feel pain or discomfort during the test.
A spinal tap is done by a trained healthcare provider. Ask your child’s healthcare provider in advance if you can stay with your child in the hospital room. Your child may bring along a favorite toy, such as a stuffed animal, for comfort.
Follow all instructions from your child’s healthcare provider. Schedule a follow-up appointment to review the results of the test.
Your child will need to lie still and rest for a few hours after the test. Some soreness in the low back is normal. You can give your child pain medicine such as acetaminophen.
Some children may have a headache after a spinal tap. The headache is usual mild and goes away on its own. Your child's healthcare provider may prescribe pain medicine for a headache.
For more severe headaches, the healthcare provider may advise an epidural blood patch. This is a procedure in which the person's own blood is injected through the epidural at or near the spinal tap site. This seals the area and prevents spinal fluid leakage.
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has any of the following:
Before you agree to the test or the procedure for your child make sure you know: