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What is a lumbar puncture (spinal tap)?

A lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, is a procedure to remove a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from around the spinal cord. The CSF is tested for infections and other conditions of the brain and spinal cord. A lumbar puncture is also used to inject medications and to measure and relieve pressure around the brain and spinal cord.

CSF is a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It acts like a cushion to protect the brain and spinal cord. Your provider will evaluate CSF test results to diagnose many types of brain and spinal cord conditions, including meningitis and multiple sclerosis. Lumbar puncture can also be used for the injection of medications into the spinal cord, including chemotherapy and spinal anesthesia.

A lumbar puncture is only one method used to diagnose or treat a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions of the brain and spinal cord. Discuss all of your options with your provider to understand which options are right for you.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 14, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Lumbar Puncture (LP). Johns Hopkins Medicine. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/neurological/lumbar_puncture_lp_92,P076....
  2. Lumbar Puncture (or Spinal Tap). Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diagnostic-tests/lumbar-puncture.htm.
  3. Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap). KidsHealth from Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/lumbar_puncture.html#.
  4. Lumbar Puncture. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/lumbar_puncture_spinal_tap/hic_lumbar_puncture.aspxyx.
  5. Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalitis_meningitis/detail_encephalitis_meningitis.htm.
  6. Neurological Diagnostic Tests and Procedures. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/misc/diagnostic_tests.htm.
  7. Spinal Tap. TeensHealth from Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/teen/cancer_center/diagnostic_tests/spinal_tap.html.

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