What Causes a Spinal Headache?
During a spinal tap, a needle is placed within the fluid-filled space that surrounds your spinal cord. This creates a passage for the spinal fluid to leak out, which changes the fluid pressure around your brain and spinal cord. If enough of the fluid leaks out, you may get a spinal headache.
Because the design of spinal needles has improved, spinal headaches after you get a spinal tap or spinal anesthesia are rare. The odds are usually low after an epidural, too, unless the needle accidentally punctures the dura mater, a tough membrane that covers your spinal cord.
What Are the Symptoms of a Spinal Headache?
The pain from a spinal headache can:
- Be dull and throbbing
- Vary from mild to incapacitating
- Get worse when you sit up and better when you lie down
You may also notice:
How Are Spinal Headaches Treated?
Without treatment, spinal headaches may go away on their own within 2 days to a couple of weeks.
If the headache requires treatment, it could involve:
- Hydration: This can help raise cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) pressure. You might need to get fluids through your veins (the doctor will call this intravenous fluids, or IV for short).
- Caffeine: The doctor might tell you to drink a beverage high in caffeine.
- Bed rest: You may have to take it easy for 24-48 hours.
- Medication: If other methods don’t work, your doctor could try drugs like gabapentin, hydrocortisone, or theophylline.
- Blood patch: If you get a spinal headache after a procedure, the anesthesiologist can create a patch with your blood to seal the leak. To put the blood patch in place, the anesthesiologist will put a needle into the same space as, or right next to, the area where the anesthetic was injected. Next, they’ll take a small amount of your blood and inject it into the epidural space. The blood clots and seals the hole that caused the leak.