Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Lumbar puncture

3-minute read

What is a lumbar puncture?

A lumbar puncture involves putting a needle into the lower back to reach the fluid that sits around the spinal cord. This can help to diagnose and sometimes treat problems of the brain and spinal cord. Lumbar puncture is sometimes called a ‘spinal tap’.

Why is a lumbar puncture performed?

A lumbar puncture is performed to sample the fluid that sits around the brain and spinal cord, called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. It can then be sent for laboratory testing.

Lumbar puncture is also sometimes used to treat certain problems, either by injecting something into this fluid, or by removing some of the fluid.

How to prepare for a lumbar puncture

Usually, no preparation is needed for a lumbar puncture, but everybody’s situation is different. You should ask your doctor if there is anything you need to do to prepare.

What happens during a lumbar puncture?

You will be asked to keep very still, either lying on your side with your knees close to your chin, or seated. Your back will be cleaned thoroughly and a small amount of local anaesthetic injected into the lower back. Once the area is numb, another needle will be put into your back, through the skin and between the bones of your spine to reach the fluid around your spinal cord. A small amount of fluid will be withdrawn. Once the procedure is finished, the needle will be taken out and a dressing will be put on the injection site.

What to expect after a lumbar puncture

You might be asked to lie down for an hour or more after the procedure, to prevent a headache. You shouldn’t need to stay in hospital overnight, but someone should drive you home.

What can go wrong?

This is usually a very safe procedure. Some people experience headache, backache or pain in the legs. This usually gets better by itself. There can be bleeding, especially if you are taking blood thinning medicine. An infection is possible, but is very rare. If you have worsening headache, fever or weakness in the legs, you should see a doctor urgently.

Resources and support

About lumbar puncture

Visit the Lab Tests Online website for more information about lumbar punctures.

About surgical procedures

Visit the healthdirect surgical procedures page to learn more about surgical procedures in general with information such as:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2020

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Lumbar puncture | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is a lumbar puncture? A lumbar puncture is also called a spinal tap or LP

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Lumbar puncture (cerebrospinal fluid examination) | myVMC

A lumbar puncture is a procedure to remove fluid from the spine using a long needle. The fluid is tested to diagnose infection and inflammatory conditions

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Lumbar Puncture Procedures | Cancer Diagnosis & Cancer Tests

A lumbar puncture (also called a spinal tap) may be used to diagnose cancer, as well as treat it. Learn more with Canteen.

Read more on Canteen website

Glossary of lumbar puncture - Lab Tests Online AU

The lumbar puncture is a special but relatively routine procedure.The lumbar puncture is performed low in the back, well below the end of the spinal cord - usually between lumbar (L) vertebrae L4 and L5. There are spinal nerves in the location sampled, but they have room to move away from the needle.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Cerebrospinal fluid examination - Lab Tests Online AU

Why and when to have a CSF examination performed

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Meningitis | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a lining called the meninges

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Childhood AML diagnosis - Leukaemia Foundation

Childhood AML diagnosis Listen How is childhood AML diagnosed? AML is diagnosed by examining samples of your child’s blood and bone marrow

Read more on Leukaemia Foundation website

Guillain-Barre Syndrome - Lab Tests Online AU

Guillain-Barre Syndrome is characterised by progressive muscle weakness or paralysis due to nerve damage. It occurs commonly after an infection.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Encephalitis in children and teenagers | Raising Children Network

Encephalitis is a serious but uncommon brain condition. Symptoms include sleepiness, confusion or sudden personality changes. You need a doctor immediately.

Read more on website

Multiple sclerosis - Lab Tests Online AU

Multiple sclerosis is a central nervous system disorder caused by nerve damage in the brain and spinal cord which affects muscle control.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo