Spinal headaches

Spinal headaches occur in up to 40 percent of those who undergo a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) or spinal anesthesia. Both procedures require a puncture of the tough membrane that surrounds the spinal cord and, in the lower spine, the lumbar and sacral nerve roots.

During a spinal tap, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid is withdrawn from your spinal canal. During spinal anesthesia, medication is injected into your spinal canal to numb the nerves in the lower half of your body. If spinal fluid leaks through the tiny puncture site, you may develop a spinal headache.

Most spinal headaches — also known as post-lumbar puncture headaches — resolve on their own with no treatment. However, spinal headaches lasting 24 hours or more may need treatment.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors

Spinal headache symptoms include:

  • Dull, throbbing pain that varies in intensity from mild to incapacitating
  • Pain that typically gets worse when you sit up or stand and decreases or goes away when you lie down

Spinal headaches are often accompanied by:

  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Nausea
  • Neck stiffness

When to see a doctor

Tell your doctor if you develop a headache after a spinal tap or spinal anesthesia — especially if the headache gets worse when you sit up or stand.

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