The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
Diagnostic Tests - Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap)
Harvard Health Publications
Order the Book
Contact Us

Sign up for our free e-mail newsletter, HEALTHbeat.  
Email Address:
 
First Name (optional):
 
 
Special Health Information Reports
Incontinence
Weight Loss
Prostate Disease
Vitamins and Minerals
Aching Hands
See All Titles
Browse Health Information
Common Medical Conditions
Wellness & Prevention
Emotional Well Being & Mental Health
Women’s Health
Men’s Health
Heart & Circulatory Health
About the Book
New Information
About the Team
Order the Book
Return to the Family Health Guide Home Page
  Harvard Health Publications
contact us




What happens when the test is performed?

  • Most patients wear a hospital gown. Typically, you lie on your side with your knees curled up against your chest. In some cases, the doctor asks you to sit on the bed or a table instead, leaning forward against some pillows.

    The doctor feels your back to locate your lower vertebrae and feels the bones in the back of your pelvis. An area on your lower back is cleaned with soap. Medicine is injected through a small needle to numb the skin and the tissue underneath the skin in the area from which the sample is to be removed. This causes some very brief stinging.

    A different needle is then placed in the same area and moved forward until fluid can be obtained through it from the spinal canal. Because the needle must be placed through a small opening between two bones, the doctor must sometimes move the needle in and out several times to locate the opening. Because of the numbing medicine used in this area, most patients experience only a sense of pressure from this movement. Occasionally some patients do get a sharp feeling in the back or (rarely) in the leg. Let your doctor know if you feel any pain.

    Sometimes the doctor measures the pressure of the fluid before taking a sample. The pressure is measured with a tube that looks like a large thermometer held against the needle. The fluid sample collected is usually less than three tablespoons. You will not feel any discomfort when it is removed. After this, the needle is taken out. Usually a Band-Aid is the only dressing necessary.

    The whole lumbar puncture, including set-up time, takes 30-45 minutes. The needle is in place for close to one minute.

Would you like to:
 

 




©2000–2006 President & Fellows of Harvard College

Sign Up Now For
HEALTHbeat
Our FREE E-mail Newsletter

In each weekly issue of HEALTHbeat:

  • Get trusted advice from the doctors at Harvard Medical School
  • Learn tips for living a healthy lifestyle
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest developments in health
  • Plus, receive your FREE Bonus Report, Living to 100: What's the secret?

[ Maybe Later ] [ No Thanks ]