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A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, involves putting a needle into the lower spine. The point of this procedure is often to retrieve cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to test for infection, though a spinal tap also can be used to administer medications or relieve spinal pressure. There are some side effects of the procedure, though, with a headache being the most common. Lower back pain near where the needle enters the spinal area also is quite common. Other side effects of a lumbar puncture are rare but more serious, including bleeding in the spine, seizures and paralysis resulting from nerve damage.
One of the most common side effects of a lumbar puncture is a headache, which tends to occur because patients temporarily have less CSF. Those who notice this symptom often feel pain either at the base of the cranium or near the front of the head. Headaches caused by this procedure can be mild or severe and often become worse when the patient stands. Therefore, patients are usually advised by their doctor to lie down as much as possible for a few days after a spinal tap. Drinking extra liquids for a day and taking pain relievers, including ibuprofen and acetaminophen, also may help get rid of the discomfort of a spinal tap headache.
Another of the possible side effects of a lumbar puncture is back pain, which is fairly common because the needle has to pierce the lower back. Like a headache, this side effect should go away within a few days of the procedure. Keeping the back straight and only bending when necessary should help the area heal. Patients are often advised to rest and take pain relievers to reduce discomfort and inflammation, but they should talk to their doctor if the discomfort in the lower back remains for more than a few days.
Some side effects of a lumbar puncture are considered more serious and cannot be cured with time and rest, though such issues are rather rare. For example, the area where the needle was pushed through the skin may continually bleed or be covered with pus, in which case patients should call their doctor. Another of the rare but serious side effects of a lumbar puncture is damage to the spinal nerve or cord, which can result in paralysis of the lower body. Additionally, some patients may experience seizures after a lumbar puncture, a side effect that also calls for immediate medical attention.