Fluoroscopic Guided Lumbar Puncture / Spinal Tap
Your doctor has ordered a test for you called a
lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap).
This handout explains what will happen before,
during, and after the test. Your nurse will go
over this sheet with you. Please ask questions.
If you have questions or concerns after you go
home, please call the numbers listed at the end
of this handout.
Please let your doctor or nurse know
if: you are allergic to Novocain /
Lidocaine, you have had previous
back surgery, or if you are currently
taking a blood thinner.
What Is a Lumbar Puncture?
A lumbar puncture involves placing a needle
between the bones of the lower back, about 2
inches below the end of the spinal cord. The
purpose of the spinal tap is to test the fluid,
known as cerebrospinal fluid or CSF, which
flows around the spinal cord and the brain. This
clear colorless fluid acts as a shock absorber for
the central nervous system. Tests on CSF can
tell many things about your body.
Most of these procedures are done at the bedside
or in the clinic. The use of fluoroscopy allows
the doctor to guide their needle using X-rays
into the appropriate position. This can
potentially make the procedure less difficult;
however, it does not mean that there will be less
pain or decrease the risk of complications.
Before the Procedure
1. Please arrange to have someone drive
2. Bring along any medicines you will need
to take during the day including
3. Before the exam, your doctor may order
blood tests to check your body’s ability
to control bleeding, depending on your
medical history and current medications.
This will allow the doctors in Radiology
to know that it is safe to perform the
You will be asked to lie down either on your
stomach or side on the fluoroscopy table. You
must remain as still as you can during the
The doctor will decide where to insert the
needle by evaluating the spaces between the
bones in your lower back using X-rays. The
doctor will put on sterile gloves and clean your
back. Once your back is clean, a sterile towel
will be draped over your back. Do not touch
your back or the sterile towel.
Next you will receive a shot to numb the site
where the puncture will be. This is much like
the dentist giving you Novocain before filling
your teeth. The site will become numb in less
than a minute. Then the doctor will insert a
needle between the bones at the chosen spot.
You will feel pressure as the doctor inserts the
needle. Let the doctor or nurse know if you feel
any pain. Breathe deeply and slowly.
The doctor may attach a special gauge to the
needle to measure the fluid pressure. Then,
some of the CSF will drain into several tubes.
The CSF will come out through the needle drop
by drop, much like a dripping faucet. Once
enough fluid has been taken for testing, the
needle will be pulled out. Your back will be
cleaned and a band-aid will be placed over the
site. The entire test will last about 30 to 45
After the Test
You will need to lie flat in bed for up to 1 hour
so that you don’t get a headache. If you are an
outpatient you will need to be watched in the
Radiology Recovery Unit. You may lie on your
side, back, or abdomen, but do not lift your
head for long periods of time.
We encourage drinking plenty of fluid following
the test and over the next 1 – 2 days. These
fluids will help to replace the CSF fluid that was
taken for tests. Your nurse will check the
puncture site for redness or swelling before you
The length of time before you have the results of
your test varies. Some results can be obtained in
1 to 2 days. Others may take weeks. Results
will be sent directly to the doctor that ordered
your test – ask in the recovery unit if you are not
Keep resting for the remainder of the
day. Plan to do quiet things like reading,
watching TV, etc.
Recline in bed or on a sofa, until the next
Keep drinking plenty of fluids. It is best
if they contain caffeine.
The morning after the test, you may take
a bath or shower and remove the band-
aid. You may also resume your normal
If you get a headache after starting
activity, return to resting, lay flat and
increase your intake of fluids with
You may take any over the counter
analgesics (ibuprofen, Tylenol®,
naproxen) you may have at home for any
discomfort that you have.
No heavy lifting, twisting, bending or
strenuous exercise for one week to allow
the puncture site to heal.
When to Call the Doctor
A severe headache that is not relieved
with aspirin or acetaminophen
A stiff neck
Nausea or vomiting
If you should need to speak to someone
regarding the procedure call the Neuroradiology
Clinical Program Coordinator at (608) 890-
7291. After hours or weekends, please call the
hospital paging operator at (608) 262-2122 and
ask to be connected to the Neuroradiology
If you have a question regarding the results,
please call the doctor that ordered the study.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you have any
questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This is not medical
advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are
different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using this information. If you have an
emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©10/2015. University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved.
Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4229.