What Is A Lumbar Puncture? – An Introduction to the Procedure

The diagnosis of diseases related to the brain and spinal cord might require a study of the composition of the spinal fluid. Performing a lumbar puncture allows the doctor to extract a sample of the spinal fluid for analysis, and this is essentially the need behind the practice.

What Is A Lumbar Puncture?

A Lumbar Puncture is the process of inserting a hollow needle into the spinal canal, between two vertebrae. It is done to extract Cerebrospinal Fluid from the lower back, for diagnostic purposes. The fluid extracted is analyzed to diagnose certain medical conditions like meningitis. In rare cases, a Lumbar Puncture can also be used as a therapeutic procedure.

Cerebrospinal Fluid is a clear and colorless liquid, and this fluid surrounds the brain and the spine.

It provides buoyancy to the brain, and acts as a shock absorber. It delivers nutrients to the brain and removes waste. As it flows between the cranium and the spine, it compensates for fluctuations in the blood volume within the intracranial region.

Lumbar Puncture

Lumbar Puncture in the early twentieth century

The History Behind The Procedure

The Lumbar Puncture was first performed by Dr. Heinrich Quincke, of Kiel, Germany, in 1891. He initially performed this procedure to drain excess fluid from around the brain. This was done as a treatment for hydrocephalus in babies.

Soon, though, Dr. Quincke recognized the potential use of analyzing the extracted liquid (CSF) in detecting the causes for other disorders that could affect the brain and the nervous system. Traditionally, the main use of a spinal tap as a diagnostic procedure has been to diagnose meningitis. This is a dangerous infection, but if it is detected on time, it can be treated.

Why Is A Lumbar Puncture Performed?

As a Diagnostic Procedure

  • The most common reason for doing a Lumbar Puncture test is to diagnose meningitis. The CSF is analyzed to see if the bacteria responsible for causing meningitis are present.
  • This procedure can help in finding the cause for inflammation or bleeding in the region of the spinal cord or the brain.
  • It also helps diagnose other brain and spine related diseases like multiple sclerosis or Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

As an Aid to Other Medical Procedures

  • A Lumbar Puncture might be used to administer anesthesia into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is done in the treatment of leukemia and other types of cancers related to the central nervous system.
  • This procedure is used to insert a dye into the CSF. This cerebrospinal fluid is clear and colorless. By inserting a dye, it can be made visible in X-Ray images. This is done to determine if a disc or a cancerous growth is obtruding into the spinal canal.

As a Therapeutic Procedure

  • On rare occasions, a spinal tap or lumbar puncture can be used as a therapeutic treatment. This procedure could be used to lower pressure on the brain by draining excess CSF.

The Lumbar Puncture is a well-known diagnostic procedure and when it is performed under sterile and safe conditions, the risks involved and the lumbar puncture side effects can be minimal.


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