Lumbar puncture is a common emergency department procedure used to obtain information about the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for diagnostic and, less commonly, therapeutic reasons. Please refer to the full article on Lumbar Puncture for more details on the lumbar puncture procedure.
Lumbar puncture is typically performed via “blind” surface landmark guidance. The surface landmark technique is reported to be successful in a high percentage of attempted lumbar punctures; however, surface landmark identification of underlying structures has been shown to be accurate only 30% of the time.  Unsuccessful identification of proper landmarks often leads to increased difficulty in obtaining CSF, if the procedure is performed, and a higher rate of complications. Few alternatives are available in these cases. If available, fluoroscopic-guided lumbar puncture may be performed. If not, treatment is sometimes initiated empirically without obtaining CSF. Disadvantages of using fluoroscopy include limited availability or necessary transport of the patient outside of the emergency department, inability to directly visualize the spinal canal, and inherent radiation exposure