Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture) in Children: What to Expect at Home

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Child lying flat on back on bed.

Your Child's Recovery

A spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture) is a test to check the fluid that surrounds and protects your child's spinal cord and brain. Your doctor may have done this test to look for an infection. In some cases, it's done to release pressure from too much fluid. Or it may be done to look for certain diseases.

Your child may feel tired. Their back may be sore where the needle went in. (This is called the puncture site.) Your child may have a mild headache for a day or two. This can happen when some of the spinal fluid is taken out. Some children also have trouble sleeping for a day or two.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for your child to recover. But each child recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to help your child get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for your child at home?

Activity

 
  • Your doctor may tell your child to lie flat in bed for 1 to 4 hours after the procedure.
  • Have your child rest when your child feels tired.

Diet

 
  • Make sure your child drinks extra fluids after the procedure to help a headache be less severe.

Medicines

 
  • Your doctor will tell you if and when your child can restart any medicines. The doctor will also give you instructions about your child taking any new medicines.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • If you think the pain medicine is making your child sick to the stomach:
    • Have your child take the medicine after meals (unless your doctor has told you not to).
    • Ask your doctor for a different pain medicine.
  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a new or higher fever.
  • Your child has a new or worse stiff neck.
  • Your child has a severe headache.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child has any drainage or bleeding from the puncture site.
  • Your child feels numb or loses strength in the legs.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child still has a headache or sore back 2 days after the procedure.
  • Your child is not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.