She's a character, she has opinions.

Recovery and (Hopefully) Preventing the Spinal Headache

with 5 comments

One of the more common side effects of a lumbar puncture is the spinal headache. It’s apparently the worst headache you’ve ever had, worse even than a migraine, and no medication will touch it. The only thing that will help is lying flat on your back. This is because extracting fluid leaves the pressure of your spinal fluid unbalanced, as it were, and when you stand up it flows away from your brain, changes the pressure, and you get pain. When you lie down flat it can flow everywhere it’s supposed to. I asked how I’d know when to seek help if I got a spinal headache and they said if it lasted more than a few days to call my doctor and/or head to the emergency room. The cure for this is apparently something called a blood patch, where blood is drawn, then injected into the space where the spinal fluid was drawn. The blood then clots and seals the hole.

Another, less common, side effect is infection. Keep a look out for the usual symptoms: redness, heat, and swelling at the site of the incision, or fever. If that happens, get yourself to the doctor ASAP.

Since the procedure I’ve had minimal pain in my back, mostly around the injection site itself. It gets sore if I sit upright for too long, which I guess is another reason why they say to lie flat on your back for a few days. The afternoon of the procedure I was exhausted, naturally, and was walking very slowly and stiffly. After a good night’s sleep I felt much better.

I’ve also had so much water to drink since the procedure that I’m peeing clear and I’m pretty sure I’ve worn a path in the floor between my bed and the bathroom. Drinking lots of fluids helps build your spinal fluid back up faster. I had a lot of spinal fluid extracted and they told me to expect a headache, but so far I haven’t had one so I must be doing something right. (Seriously, I am a very hydrated person. I just knew some day that would mean good things for me!)

The most surprising side effect was how I felt emotionally. I’m much better today, but the evening of the procedure I felt horrible. I was almost crying, and I felt so vulnerable and violated. A nurse-in-training friend reminded me that even though this procedure is minimally invasive, it is still invasive. I kept feeling as if something foreign had invaded a place that should not be invaded, which, when you think about it, is what happened. I was very afraid before the procedure and it left me with a lot of worries. Not because the procedure itself was so painful or horrible, but because I have this solid conviction that my spinal fluid is sealed for a reason and should never, ever be tampered with. The spine and the brain, those things should remain New In Box, if you know what I mean.

There was nothing really to be done about how I was feeling. I was following all the instructions for a good recovery, I was safe at home, my husband was brining me everything I needed. I just tried to relax and after a good night’s sleep I felt a lot better.


Written by tldegray

November 12, 2010 at 9:30 am

5 Responses

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  1. I experienced something akin to the spinal headache when I got a lidocaine shot in my neck as a pain treatment experiment once – it was about 2 hours of NO PAIN WHATSOEVER in my head for my PHN and then the most soul destroying, crawling up the walls, no drugs will touch it headache for 12 hours after that… but for those 2 hours I had no pain which gave me some perspective on the incredible amount of pain that I deal with on a daily basis. From those couple of hours I learned that I have gotten used to a level 9-10 of pain EVERY DAY! It is gruesome…

    I have fallen totally out of being well-hydrated… I am totally getting back on track for that because there isn’t much that can make you feel as good as drinking enough water – or you can feel as crappy as not drinking enough…

    Off to get some tea to start the day 🙂


    November 13, 2010 at 9:34 am

  2. I can’t even imagine how you deal with that pain every day. I mean, mine is in my arm/hand, but yours is in YOUR HEAD. When you think about it, it’s really amazing what the human body can endure and even get used to.

    Hydration is key. *nods sagely* *giggles*


    November 13, 2010 at 2:39 pm

  3. Hey you! I hope you are feeling okay and recovered post lumbar! I am trying to find some resources on setting reasonable workplace goals while dealing with a chronic illness. I think that my expectations of self have been messed up by years of perfectionist-self-abusing and now that I am at the helm of my own organization I need to rethink how I “do” my job and my expectations. There isn’t anyone hanging over me laying their own stuff on me and I can get the day to day stuff done but I want to do more but I also need to manage my own expectations of myself… it is more like I have to reset my workaholic-o-meter and need some background on how to do that… have you seen anything resembling that?


    November 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    • All recovered. Finally. Of course then I caught a cold, which is apparently par for the course in my immuno-compromised life. Boo.

      I can completely relate to the whole workaholic perfectionist thing. Before I got sick I was working two jobs and attending Wellesley full-time. I can’t think of anything in particular but I know I’ve read things about what you’re looking for. Have you checked my posterous to see if I linked to anyone? (

      Basically, I think the idea is pacing. But it’s hard because it’s a total reset of who you are. I still get knocked on my ass because I don’t obey my limits.

      If I see anything I’ll keep you in mind.


      November 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

  4. I got some good advice from friend

    “forget about what YOU think about you right now. What you want, since you are still new, is to impress the shit out of them but keep your sanity and not work yourself to death. The rules are clearly outlined: you have 30 hours per week. also, promise nothing. i found out that when i start making promises is when I got SUPER stressed out. I set these bizarre goals for myself that really existed only in my head and then I went nutso with guilt when I didn’t achieve them. and NOBODY else cared cause they were pie in the sky goals. you promise nothing. you do what they ask you. if you can do more, do it quietly and then TA-DA big reveal because omg you are awesome and when the hell did you squeeze that in. but you do not promise anything in advance. also, way cooler when you can surprise the hell out of people.”

    i really liked that advice… very helpful & realistic for me… i am watching terminator: the sarah connor chronicles — they are very suspenseful and juicy – i like them so far…

    i hope you have a great long weekend — that is coming up right?



    November 23, 2010 at 10:43 pm

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