Lumbar Puncture Procedure Information
What is a lumbar puncture(LP)?
A lumbar puncture is the insertion of a needle into the fluid within the spinal
canal. It is termed a “lumbar puncture” because the needle goes into the lower
part of the back to obtain a sample of the fluid in the spinal canal (the
cerebrospinal fluid) for examination.
Another name for a Lumbar Puncture is a spinal tap.
Why is this procedure done?
To look for disease such as cancer, or infection or bleeding in the central
nervous system. It is sometime used as a way to deliver chemotherapy
(intrathecal) and antibiotics.
How do I prepare for the procedure?
Usually no special preparation is needed. However, medication such as “blood
thinners” may be stopped before your test.
What will happen during the procedure?
You will lie on your side with your knees drawn to your chest so that your spine
is curved; in some cases you may sit on the bed and lean forward onto some
pillows on a table instead. A doctor and nurse will be present.
Is local freezing used?
How is the lumbar puncture done?
A needle is inserted into your spinal canal. The needle does not touch the
Will I have pain during the procedure?
You may feel pressure or a stinging sensation. Although you may feel some
discomfort, it is important that you lie still. Let your doctor know if you are
How long does the procedure take?
Less than 30 minutes.
What will happen after the needle is removed?
Your doctor will apply pressure to the puncture site then apply a bandage. You
will need to rest in bed for at least an hour, and avoid strenuous activity for
at least 24 hours. You should also drink plenty of fluids. Let your doctor know
if any blood or fluid is leaking from the puncture site.
Contact your doctor or nurse at once if you develop a headache
Headache is the most common complication, which can last 1 week or less and it
can occur in up to 40% of patients (Evans, 1998).
What can I do the day after my procedure?
You may remove the dressing if there has been no bleeding. If you notice
bleeding, replace the dressing and apply pressure for at least 5 minutes.
If there is no bleeding, you may shower as usual. Avoid heavy physical activity
for 24 hours. Do not lift heavy objects.
You may have some bruising at the site. You may also have mild soreness at the
site. Your doctor or nurse will tell you what medicine to use for soreness.
What are the risks?
Fortunately, serious complications are uncommon. They occur in about 0.3% (3 out
of 1000) of patients and may include:
Reference: Evans, R.W. (1998) Complications of lumbar puncture. Neurologic
Clinics Of North America, 16 (1), 83-105. The risks may be higher in your
particular situation and will be discussed by your doctor if this is so.