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Headache After a Spinal Tap

Updated on September 11, 2018
Bridget F profile image

Bridget is a life-long writer, runner, researcher, cat-lover, yogi and traveler. She is also a social worker and voracious reader.

What is a spinal headache? A spinal headache typically causes pain in the back of the head/neck and the forehead areas. It's also known as a "post lumbar puncture" or "post-LP" headache. These develop within 7-14 days of a lumbar puncture (but 90% begin within three days after the procedure!)

Home Treatment for a Spinal Headache

About 25% of people who get a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) experience the post-LP headache. The headache gets worse when sitting or standing, and usually feels better when the person lays down. Scientists aren't sure exactly why this is, but there are theories that it has to do with the leakage of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) after the tap and a reduction in the amount of pressure in the spine after the tap.

Treatments and remedies include:

  • Over the counter pain relievers are one option to relieve the pain from the headache.
  • Laying down as much as possible to increase spinal pressure does help people feel better in the moment, but this has not been scientifically proven to make a difference in the length of the headache long-term.
  • Caffeine has been found to help the pain in many studies by constricting the blood vessels in the area, so grab a cup of coffee or a soda for your bedside! For instance, a 200 ml cup of brewed coffee has 160mg of caffeine, and a cup of tea contains 40mg.
  • Staying hydrated! By drinking water you are increasing the fluid available for the spinal area, which will replenish the CSF in your spine. This will help to balance out the pressure and help you to get rid of the headache.
  • Relaxation has many overall benefits and dimming the lights while listening to soft music may be both distracting and relaxing.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

A post-LP spinal headache can be terrifying! The pain after an already overwhelming procedure is the last thing that anyone would want, and it can be hard to tell when it is time to call the doctor about the headache. Typically, if the headache lasts longer than 24-72 hours and/or it does not get better with rest or over the counter pain relievers, it is best to call your doctor or neurologist or to go to your local emergency room. At the emergency room, they are able to do a procedure called a blood patch, which involves putting your own blood back into the opening where the cerebral spinal fluid is leaking and this usually immediately resolves the headache!

About 85% of post-LP headaches will resolve within six weeks, and many resolve within a few days to one week!

Other symptoms that are associated with a spinal headache include: lower back pain, nausea, vomiting, vertigo and tinnitus



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