Spinal tap refers to both a procedure and a lab test. Furthermore, Spinal fluid is extracted from the lower back and then tested to determine the spinal fluid pressure and contents.

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Cerebrospinal fluid, computer artwork.Why is Spinal Tap Procedure done?

Doctors will perform a spinal tap to get a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord) to test the pressure and content of the fluid. The fluid is usually very clear and contains proteins, sugar, and other substances that can be found in the blood. And, it typically does not contain red blood cells or many white blood cells. In addition, signs of problems include evidence of bleeding, an increase in white blood cells (infection-fighting cells), and an increase in protein levels, or inflammation. Moreover, this could mean there is an infection, tumor, or hemorrhage around the brain or spinal cord.

How is a Spinal Tap Performed?

To obtain the fluid sample, the surgeon inserts a needle into the spinal canal in the low back. The surgeon inserts the needle through the back, usually between two of the vertebrae. Additionally, the surgeon may ask you to sit and lean over or to lie on your side. Before he/she inserts the spinal needle, the team works to cleanse the skin using an antiseptic and numb it with lidocaine. Moreover, the procedure usually takes only 10-15 minutes.

What are the limitations?

The spinal tap does not provide information about most types of back pain. It is not helpful if your doctor suspects you may have arthritis of the spine, a herniated disc, or spinal stenosis.

What are the risks?

A spinal tap has more risks associated with it than most other tests. This is one reason that doctors prefer to use “noninvasive” tests first, such as MRI & CT-scan. The risks associated with a spinal tap include meningitis (infection of the spinal fluid) and the possibility of developing a spinal headache. However, there is a very small chance that the needle will cause bleeding around the spinal sac.

This is more of a risk if you are on medications that thin the blood and interfere with blood clotting. Therefore, if possible, you should not take aspirin or ibuprofen for five days before having this test. In addition, make sure to tell your doctor if you are taking any type of blood thinners.

If you or a loved one suffers from spinal pain, you owe it to yourself to call Southwest Scoliosis and Spine Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment.