Spinal taps are fairly routine procedures, but like all medical treatments they carry potential risks. For most people, it’s just another unpleasant experience with a hefty hospital bill.

For others, spinal taps can lead to minor side effects. In rare cases, a spinal tap can lead to long-term damage.

Spinal taps cause nerve damage in less than 1 in 1000 cases, so it’s a pretty rare side effect. When nerve damage occurs, the nerves usually heal on their own within a few days, weeks, or months.

In extremely rare cases, permanent nerve damage may result in paralysis.

If you are experiencing spinal nerve damage after receiving a spinal tap, visit a specialist (not the healthcare professional who administered the spinal tap) to determine the source of the issue.

If the doctor concludes that the damage was caused by the administering professional’s error, you may wish to discuss your case with a medical malpractice attorney.

What is a Spinal Tap?

A spinal tap (known in the medical field as a lumbar puncture) is a procedure where a thin spinal needle is injected into the lower part of your spinal column to administer drugs or collect cerebrospinal fluid.

As the name suggests, this is the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord and brain to protect them from injury.

Spinal taps are useful for a number of reasons. Doctors may use a spinal tap to collect cerebrospinal fluid for laboratory analysis or to measure the pressure of a patient’s cerebrospinal fluid.

Doctors can also chemotherapy drugs, spinal anesthetics, and other medications directly into your cerebrospinal fluid.

Finally, a radiologist may inject radioactive substances or dye to produce diagnostic images of the cerebrospinal fluid flow.

When used for testing purposes, a spinal tap may help medical professionals diagnose the following issues:

  • Serious viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, including syphilis, encephalitis, and meningitis
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhaging (bleeding around the brain)
  • Cancers involving the spinal cord or brain
  • Inflammatory conditions of the nervous system like Guillain-Barre syndrome and multiple sclerosis (MS)

How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Spinal Tap?

After completing your spinal tap, you’ll be asked to stay in the hospital bed for at least one to four hours. This helps to prevent headaches associated with the loss of cerebrospinal fluid, and allows the medical staff to monitor your status for any red flags.

You may experience minor side effects such as fatigue, a sore back near the puncture site, mild headaches, and insomnia for a day or two.

Most patients are cleared to return to work the same day (providing you won’t be doing any heavy lifting or physical activity at work), though it’s best if you can take the day off and rest.

In rare cases where the patient experiences nerve damage, the tingling or numbness usually goes away on its own within a few days. As a precaution, you should still contact your doctor if you experience numbness or tingling, especially if it lasts longer than a few days.

Spinal Tap Side Effects

As with any medical procedure, you should go into a spinal tap with your eyes open to the potential risks and side effects:


A decrease in cerebrospinal fluid pressure may lead to post-lumbar puncture headaches, the most common side effect. Most headaches start within a few hours of the procedure, though there are documented cases of serious headaches coming on two days after the procedure.

They may last for several days and are often accompanied by a stiff neck and nausea, but they’re not dangerous. You can treat post-lumbar puncture headaches with any OTC pain medication, though acetaminophen is generally preferred.

In extremely rare cases, a post-lumbar puncture headache may last several weeks or months. In these cases, the patient may require an injection to seal the lumbar puncture site.

Back Pain

After the local anaesthetic injection wears off, you may feel some back pain around the lumbar puncture site. Bruising is also common. OTC pain medication should resolve these issues within a few days, though there are rare cases of persistent back pain that doesn’t go away.

Tingling in Your Legs

1 in 1000 spinal taps result in nerve damage that causes tingling and/or numbing. In most cases, it means a nerve floating in your cerebrospinal fluid touched the side of the needle and became stimulated.

Such cases usually resolve themselves within a matter of minutes, but it can take a couple days. Beyond that, lasting tingling in your legs is potentially a sign of serious long-term nerve damage.


Infections are extremely rare, though there’s always a risk of infection in hospital procedures. The risk is reduced by thoroughly cleansing the skin before the procedure and using aseptic techniques and hygiene practices. If you run a fever after getting a spinal tap, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Blood Clots

These are exceedingly rare by extremely dangerous. When a blood clot forms around the lumbar puncture site or around the brain, you may need surgery to treat it.

Hearing Loss or Double Vision

Exceedingly rare side effects that require immediate medical attention.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Statistically, serious injuries occur in about 1 in 10,000 spinal tap cases. Most of these are natural side effects, but sometimes the injury is directly caused by the doctor’s negligent behavior.

Doctors have a special “duty of care” to strictly follow protocol. When they fail to follow accepted procedures and a patient is injured, the patient has the right to seek compensation for their injuries, losses, and damages.

The most common example of a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a spinal tap involves a doctor who injects the spinal needle too far into the patient’s lumbar area.

Whether the mistake leads to long-term nerve damage, paralysis, or worse, the doctor should be held responsible for the damages caused to the patient. 

In a successful malpractice lawsuit, the victim is entitled to compensation for their medical bills, lost income, future treatment costs, and pain and suffering.

Some cases also include damages for emotional distress when the injury leads to mental anguish in the form of anxiety, depression, insomnia, fear, or other indicators of emotional trauma.

Receive Help With a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Arizona

In order to win a medical malpractice lawsuit you will not only need to prove the injury, but prove it was caused by negligence, and do this against big insurance companies that represent doctors. Which is why working with an experienced personal injury attorney is your best option to receive compensation.

If you believe you have been injured due to the negligence of a medical professional, and you live in Arizona, JacksonWhite can help. Our personal injury team will fight for Arizona medical negligence victims and can help you receive compensation for your injury.

Call Personal Injury Attorney Jared Everton at (480) 467-4392 to discuss your case today.

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