Q&A: Is it normal to feel pain after a spinal tap?
My child recently had a spinal tap to test for meningitis and is complaining now, a few weeks later, of a backache in that same area. Is this normal?
A spinal tap is a test that involves removing a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid to test for infection. Sometimes called a lumbar puncture, the procedure is done by inserting a needle between the vertebrae of the lumbar spine. (The spine is divided into four sections, from top to bottom: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The lumbar spine is in the lower part of the back, incorporating the natural curve just above the sacrum.)
With the needle in place, doctors can test the spinal pressure and then collect a little bit of the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord (and the brain) for analysis. The procedure is done carefully and with sterile technique. Many times a local anesthetic is used at the site where the needle will be inserted. When asked about the discomfort your child is experiencing, Dr. Brian Mulkerin, MD, an anesthesiologist in Tucson, Arizona, had the following to say:
“A little pain [or] soreness (equivalent to a bruise) wouldn’t be unusual for a few days to a couple weeks, although a lot of people have no pain at all. If it was a difficult tap and took several attempts, it’s possible that there may be some residual inflammation in the ligaments. A short course of
NSAIDS [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] like ibuprofen may help, as well as heat. If the pain persists much longer than another month, worsens, or if there are any signs of redness, or other symptoms developing they should seek medical care.”