Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap)

A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) is an invasive medical procedure where a needle is inserted into the spinal canal (subarachnoid space) to remove cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for analysis, to inject medication into the subarachnoid space to alleviate pain, or to inject other medication to treat diseases of the meninges, such as to deliver chemotherapy for cancer that has metastasized to the meninges.

Cerebrospinal fluid is a liquid in the subarachnoid space that stabilizes the brain and spinal cord and keeps them from moving. Any abnormalities of the meninges, spinal cord, and/or brain can affect the cerebrospinal fluid. That is why removing cerebrospinal fluid for examination is important if abnormalities of the meninges and/or spinal cord is suspected.

  1. For treatment, such as:
  • Removing cerebrospinal fluid due to hydrocephalus can reduce pressure in the skull
  • Administering intratechal injection to treat cancer that has metastasized to the meninges
  • Adminstering anesthesia to reduce pain during certain surgeries
  1. For diagnosis of disease, such as meningitis or inflammation of the spinal cord and/or nerves
The lumbar puncture serves two main purposes: to drain collected fluid and to collect spinal fluid for diagnosis of disease or staging of cancer. Before this procedure is done, the doctor will have considered all available options, such as other diagnostic tests like blood tests and x-rays.

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