What is a Lumbar Drain?
A lumbar drain is a small, flexible, soft
plastic tube placed in the lower back
(lumbar area) to remove (cerebral) spinal
fluid (CSF). The tube is attached to a
drainage bag. CSF is a clear fluid that
surrounds and protects the brain and spinal
cord. A lumbar drain is often needed to
collect CSF leaking from the brain or spine
after surgery or to reduce pressure in the
spinal cord or brain due to too much CSF on
the brain. Too much pressure in the spinal
cord can slow blood flow to the area and can
lead to confusion and trouble thinking, pain,
weakness, and even paralysis.
How is a lumbar drain placed?
Your doctor will place the lumbar drain
during surgery in the operating room or
while you are lying in bed in your hospital
room. You will be given medicine to keep
you comfortable. You will either lie on your
side in bed with your chin tucked to your
chest or sit at the edge of the bed leaning
over a bedside table. The doctor will
prepare the area where the drain will be
placed. He or she will remove any hair,
clean the area to remove any germs and
drape a cloth to keep the area sterile. The
doctor will then numb the area and insert a
needle between two lower back vertebrae.
When the needle is in the right spot, the soft
tube will be left in place while the needle is
removed. The doctor will place a dressing
over the insertion site, tape the tube in place
and attach the tube to the drainage system.
The drainage system will be attached to an
IV pole at your bedside. Or, it will be hung
on a hook on your bed.
What can I expect after lumbar drain
After placement of the drain, the nurse will
watch you closely. The nurse will check
your drain and the dressing often. She or he
will drain off any extra CSF as ordered by
the doctor, and adjust the position of the
drain. The draining fluid may be clear or
colored. The nurse will also perform a
neurological exam by asking you a series of
questions and having you follow commands
arms and legs
need to done
as often as
In order to
by accident, do not touch the lumbar drain
while it is in place.
If you would like to change position or get
out of bed, always ask your nurse for help.
The drain must be clamped before moving,
and its level may need to be altered after you
have moved. Family and friends should
never move you or the bed or touch your
How is the lumbar drain removed?
Your doctor will decide when your lumbar
drain can safely be removed. At this time,
the dressing will be taken off. The tube will
be removed. A stitch may be placed at the
drain site. When the drain is taken out, it
should not cause any discomfort. A dressing
will be placed over the site. Your nurse will
check it for drainage and infection.
What are the risks of a lumbar drain?
Infection, nerve irritation, paralysis,
bleeding, leakage of CSF, and air entering
the brain space are all risks associated with
lumbar drain placement.
When should I call the nurse?
Any time you have questions or concerns,
please do not hesitate to contact your nurse.
You should also inform your nurse if you
are drowsy or tired, confused, tense, have a
stiff neck, an increased headache or leg pain,
are sensitive to light, nauseated or vomiting,
have numbness or tingling, difficulty going
to the bathroom, or if you notice any leaking
of fluid from the drain site.
Barnes-Jewish Hospital. (2005). Managing the Lumbar Drain Device: Keeping nurses and physicians on the same
page. St. Louis: Rimmer, L.
Capital Health. (2005). Lumbar Drain. Nova Scotia: Critical Care Emergency Resource Team.
Ohio Health. (2005). Health and Wellness: Lumbar Drains. Columbus.
Thompson, H.J. (2000). Managing patients with lumbar drainage devices. Critical Care Nurse, (5) 59-68.
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 © 10/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6817