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Spinal Headaches

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

Up to 30% of people who have spinal tap develop spinal headaches. The spinal tap, which is also called a lumbar puncture, involves using a needle to take fluid from the spinal canal. Puncturing the outer layer of the spinal cord is also a method used to inject anesthesia to numb the lower part of the body, which includes epidural block administered during labor and delivery.

In some people withdrawing by spinal fluids migraine-like headaches arise.

What causes spinal headaches

If spinal fluid leaks out when the spinal fluid is extracted, the fluid pressure around the spinal cord and brain can cause a spinal headache. The head pain results if the needle accidentally passes through the dura matter which covers the spinal cord, which causes the leakage. New technology in the way spinal needles are designed has reduced the number of spinal headaches.

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Spinal headaches can cause severe head pain which often worsens upon sitting upright.

Facts about spinal headaches

  • Spinal headaches can appear up to five days after the spinal tap/lumbar puncture
  • Bed rest after the spinal tap/lumbar puncture can help prevent
  • Spinal headaches are more severe when sitting up and often improve when the person is lying down
  • Additional fluids - such as those given intravenously - sometimes helps spinal headaches
  • Sometimes consuming beverages high in caffeine is helpful at relieving spinal headaches

A small 2001 study examined 28 patients who had accidental dural puncture during a procedure. Some of the patients had saline injected immediately after the puncture. Of those who were treated with the saline, 32% had headaches. Of those who weren’t given the saline, 62% developed spinal headaches.

An older study, conducted in 1956, found that 72% of the headaches went away within a week.

A more recent study found that most spinal headaches - more than 85% - go away within six weeks.