Spinal Headache

What is a Spinal Headache?

When the spinal cord is punctured for a lumbar punch, epidural injection, or traumatic injury, leaking spinal fluid can leave you with a painful headache. Around 40% of people that go through some kind of spinal injection or test will experience this condition.

It usually begins with two days of the spinal procedure, but may take a little longer or occur sooner. Most cases aren’t serious, but your doctor will need to monitor the leak and act immediately if it doesn’t heal on its own.

What are the Symptoms of a Spinal Headache?

Spinal headaches involve a throbbing yet dull pain that usually affects the whole head. The pain increases sharply when you change positions between sitting and standing up, but recedes while you lie down. You may also notice secondary symptoms like:

  • Tinnitus, which is a ringing noise in the ears
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Increased sensitivity and painful reactions to light
  • Dizziness and loss of balance

How is a Spinal Headache Treated?

For mild cases, bed rest and over-the-counter medications are prescribed, along with extra water and other fluids. Replenishing the body’s water supply helps it produce more spinal fluid to replace what’s missing. In more serious cases, an IV is used to give a more immediate source of fluids.

Drinking certain amounts of caffeine also boosts spinal fluid pressure when it’s getting too low. In cases that threaten spinal and brain health, your own blood is mixed with clotting agents and injected to create a natural bandage known as a blood patch. This treatment is available for people who regularly experience spinal headaches. For example, an anesthesiologist can apply a blood patch immediately after giving an epidural if they know it’s needed by the patient.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 21, 2017