How to Prepare for a Spinal Tap

Are you scheduled for a spinal tap? If so, you are in luck. This article will help you properly prepare for this procedure. What is a spinal tap? Well, a spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture, is a medical procedure that consists of inserting a long needing into your lower back (lumbar region). The purpose of this procedure is to test for a variety of health conditions (i.e. multiple sclerosis, meningitis, and/or Guillain-Barre syndrome) by collecting cerebrospinal fluid from your spine and brain. It is also performed to assess neurological disorders, and reduce pressure in people who are suffering from hydrocephalus or intracranial hypertension. A spinal tap is normally administered in a hospital, private clinic, emergency room, or outpatient facility. Prior to your procedure, a nurse will ask you to replace your clothes with a hospital gown.

You will then be instructed to lie to your side with your knees bent, or sit up, and lean forward. These positions make it easier for your physician to insert the needle because they flex your back and widen the space between your vertebrae. A nurse or your physician will then sterilize your back with iodine or anti-septic soap. In some cases, you may be given anesthesia to help relax you during the procedure. After that you will be ready for your spinal tap. The thought of a spinal tap is frightening to most people, however it does not have to be, if you are mentally and physically prepared for it.

Listed below are steps that you can take to prepare for your spinal tap:

Schedule a Consultation

The first thing you will want to do to prepare for a spinal tap is schedule a consultation with physician or neurosurgeon. During the consultation, your physician will question you about your medical history, perform a physical exam, record your vitals (i.e. blood pressure, temperature, weight, height, and oxygen saturation level). If you suffer from a blood disorder, your physician may order bloodwork to check your platelet (clotting) levels.

Moreover, he or she may order a CT or MRI to determine if you have any excess fluid around your brain or spinal column. Don’t forget to take a list of all of your medications (i.e. prescription, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements/vitamins) with you to the consultation. Also, check before leaving the house that you have your health insurance card. Furthermore, make sure you allot 2 or 3 hours for this procedure (i.e. prep, procedure, and in-office recovery).

Stay Hydrated

To properly prepare for your spinal tap, you will need to drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, the night before the procedure. In other words, it is important that you stay hydrated, unless your physician restricts your fluid intake. Also, eat a light, healthy breakfast the day of your spinal tap.

Take Your Medications

Make sure to take all of your prescribed medications the morning of your spinal tap. This is especially true if you are taking blood pressure medications, life-saving medications, and blood disorder (clotting) medications. If are currently taking blood thinners like aspirin, ibuprofen, or Coumadin and Plavix – contact your physician prior to your procedure to see how he or she wants you to handle those medications.

Clear Your Schedule

It is also important to clear your schedule the day of your spinal tap. As mentioned previously, you may spend up to 3 hours in the doctor’s office or hospital, so it is imperative that you allot enough time for the procedure so that you do not feel rushed or stressed. To clarify, numbing your lower back can take between 30 and 45 minutes, the actual procedure(spinal tap) typically only takes about 3 to 5 minutes, however, recovery (lying completely still on your back) can take between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how well your blood clots.

Make Arrangements

Because having a spinal tap is so taxing, you will want to ask a friend or relative to take you to your appointment, stay with you (if possible), and take you home. If possible, ask this person to stay with you for a couple of hours once you get home to make sure you do not suffer from any side-effects.

Dress Comfortably

Lastly, dress comfortably with loose-fitting cotton clothes (i.e. jogging suits, loose-fitting dresses, etc.).


Mayo Clinic. (2014). Lumbar puncture (Spinal tap). Retrieved from

WebMD. (2014). Lumbar puncture. Retrieved from


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