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Lumbar puncture

A lumbar puncture is where a thin needle is inserted between the bones in your lower spine. It should not be painful, but you may have a headache and some back pain for a few days.

It's carried out in hospital by a doctor or specialist nurse.

A lumbar puncture may be used to:

Your doctor or nurse should explain what's going to happen and why you need a lumbar puncture.

A few days or weeks before the test:

On the day:

What happens during a lumbar puncture

The doctor or nurse will:

  1. Clean your skin and numb the area with local anaesthetic (you'll be awake during the procedure). Children may also be given medicine to help them relax and keep still.
  2. Insert a thin needle through the skin, between 2 bones in the lower part of your spine. This should not be painful, but you may feel some pressure.
  3. Remove the needle once the procedure is finished and apply a small plaster or dressing.

A lumbar puncture takes around 30 to 45 minutes, but you'll need to stay lying down at the hospital for at least another hour while the nurses monitor you.

You'll be able to go home the same day if you feel well enough, but you would not be able to drive yourself home.

The doctor or nurse who performs the lumbar puncture can often tell you some of the results straight away and explain what they mean.

You may need to wait for at least 48 hours for the full results. Some laboratory test results are available within a couple of hours in an emergency.

A lumbar puncture is generally a safe procedure and serious side effects are uncommon.

The most common side effects are:

While you're recovering from a lumbar puncture:

Do

  • drink plenty of fluids

  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol

  • lie down instead of sitting upright

  • try drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea or cola – some people find this helps to relieve the headaches

  • remove the dressing or plaster yourself the next day

Don't

  • do not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours

  • do not play sport or do any strenuous activities for at least a week