Spinal headaches – Diagnosis and treatment


The doctor will ask questions about your headache and do a physical exam. Be sure to mention any recent procedures — particularly a spinal tap or spinal anesthesia.

Sometimes the doctor will recommend magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to rule out other causes of your headache. During the exam, a magnetic field and radio waves create cross-sectional images of your brain.


Treatment for spinal headaches begins conservatively. Your doctor may recommend getting bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, consuming caffeine and taking oral pain relievers.

If your headache hasn’t improved within 24 hours, your doctor might suggest an epidural blood patch. Injecting a small amount of your blood into the space over the puncture hole will often form a clot to seal the hole, restoring normal pressure in the spinal fluid and relieving your headache. This is the usual treatment for persistent spinal headaches that don’t resolve on their own.

Preparing for your appointment

If you’ve recently had a spinal procedure and develop a headache that lasts 24 hours or longer, your doctor can help you determine the seriousness of your condition. Here’s some information to help you get ready for your appointment and to know what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Write down any symptoms you’re experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements you’re taking.
  • Take a family member or friend along, if possible. Depending on your condition, you may need help getting to your appointment. And someone who accompanies you may remember information you miss or forget.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Preparing questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For a spinal headache, questions you might ask include:

  • What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
  • Are there other causes?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • What is the best course of action?
  • What alternatives are there to the approach you’re suggesting?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there any restrictions I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take? What websites do you recommend?

Don’t hesitate to ask any other questions.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:

  • When did your headache begin?
  • Does your headache worsen when you sit, stand or lie down?
  • Do you have a history of headaches? What type?

May 05, 2020

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  4. Post-lumbar puncture and other low-pressure headaches. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/headache/post–lumbar-puncture-and-other-low–pressure-headaches?qt=&sc=&alt=. Accessed March 12, 2018.
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