Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
Find out how we produce our information|
This test looks at the fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
Lumbar punctures are done for a number of different reasons. They can be done to look for diseases of the brain and nervous system, or to look for cancer cells or infections. They can also be used to measure the pressure of the CSF, and they can be used to give treatment, including chemotherapy and pain-relieving drugs.
You or your parents will be asked to sign a consent form to give permission for the doctors to do the test.
The lumbar puncture is done either by a doctor or sometimes by a specialist nurse who’s had training.
You'll be asked either to sit and bend over, or to lie on your side with your knees bent up. The skin on your back is cleaned with antiseptic, which will feel cold, and you’ll be given a local anaesethetic to numb the area where the needle is put in to collect the fluid. There will then be a wait of a few minutes to give the anaesthetic time to work. You’ll be asked to lie very still, then you’ll feel some pressure or pushing as the needle is inserted between two of the bones in your back (vertebrae). The CSF is drawn out, then the needle is then removed and a dressing is put over the site.
If you’re having a lumbar puncture to give chemotherapy or a painkiller, then the drug will be given into the needle rather than the CSF being removed.
Having a lumbar puncture takes about 20 minutes. It shouldn’t be painful but you may feel uncomfortable.
An illustration of a lumbar puncture being done
View a large copy of the illustration showing a lumbar puncture being done|
You may have a headache, and you can take painkillers for this. You’ll be asked to stay lying down for a few hours afterwards - exactly how long depends on how you feel.
The nurses will check on you for a few hours after the lumbar puncture to make sure you’re OK. The doctor or nurse will tell you when you can go, and then you should be able to carry on as normal. Your dressing can be removed the next day
Content last reviewed: 1 November 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
Oh yeah the happy gas operations were, they were actually quite fun [laughs]... but no, you know, I can't remember a great deal about the lumbar punctures but I don't remember sort of feeling any pain afterwards or anything. Experience of someone with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who was diagnosed aged 11
Oh yeah the happy gas operations were, they were actually quite fun [laughs]... but no, you know, I can't remember a great deal about the lumbar punctures but I don't remember sort of feeling any pain afterwards or anything.
Experience of someone with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who was diagnosed aged 11
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|