A spinal headache is triggered when fluid leaks from your spine. The leakage decreases the fluid pressure around your brain, causing it to sag downward. When the brain sags, it stretches the surrounding nerves, creating intense head pain.

There are some predictable risk factors for getting this type of headache. For instance, spinal headaches occur in a third of people who receive a spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture).

Learn the ins and outs of spinal headaches, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Then, you can be prepared if you ever wake up with spinal headache.

What Is a Spinal Headache?

When cerebrospinal fluid leaks from the meninges, your brain tissues and nerves stretch due to the decrease in fluid pressure in which the brain floats. An intense head pain follows this CSF leak. This is a spinal headache.

  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF): the fluid that envelops the brain
  • Meninges: the tissue that envelops the brain and spinal cord

Spinal headaches are also known as:

  • Post-dural puncture headaches
  • Post-lumbar puncture headaches
  • Low-pressure headaches
  • Epidural headaches

Causes & Risk Factors

Most spinal headaches are caused by a spinal tap. A spinal tap is when a doctor or anesthesiologist inserts analgesics through a spinal needle into the spinal canal in the lower back.

Sometimes, the needle can leave a puncture site where spinal fluid leaks out of the epidural space. 

Epidural anesthetic is supposed to be injected on the outside of the membrane surrounding the spinal cord, but occasionally the membrane is punctured by mistake.

How can I prevent getting a spinal headache? When a doctor performs a spinal tap, they can prevent spinal headaches by opting for a smaller, blunt-tipped spinal needle called a “non-cutting needle” or “atraumatic needle.”

A non-cutting needle reduces the risk of leakage and, therefore, the risk of spinal headaches.

The most common reasons you might need a spinal tap are:

  • Epidural, such as during childbirth
  • Spinal anesthesia
  • Diagnosing an illness, such as meningitis, MS (multiple sclerosis), or brain cancer

Other causes of spinal headaches include a ruptured cyst on the spinal cord and head/face/skull trauma. Either of these may cause spinal fluid to leak, resulting in low CSF pressure around the brain (intracranial hypotension). 

Knowing the risk factors can help you understand what type of headache you are experiencing.

The risk factors for spinal headaches include:

  • Spinal tap procedure in the last two weeks
  • Recent head injury
  • Pregnancy
  • Low BMI (body mass index)
  • Age 18 to 30 years old
  • Female (women are more likely to get a spinal headache)

Visit us at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. Contact us and give us a call at 303-955-8270 to schedule an appointment!

Common Symptoms of Spinal Headaches

What does a spinal headache feel like? A spinal headache is described as a throbbing pain in the front or back of the head that radiates into the neck and shoulders and gets worse when you move. 

The most common symptoms of a spinal headache include:

  • Head pain: Unilateral (either in the front OR back of the head, not both), throbbing, dull, intense or mild, and gets worse when standing, sitting, coughing, or sneezing. 
  • Neck pain and/or neck stiffness
  • Back stiffness or back pain
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears (called tinnitus)
  • Hearing loss
  • Blurred vision, double vision
  • Sensitivity to bright lights

Spinal headaches are typically more severe for people when standing or sitting. Lying down (especially on bed rest) often alleviates some of the head pain.

Are spinal headaches dangerous? Spinal headaches are not usually dangerous. Often, the body self-heals the puncture hole in the dura mater surrounding the spinal cord, allowing fluid pressure to be restored.

How long do spinal headaches last? A spinal headache can last for hours or potentially days. If a headache lasts any longer than a day, you should schedule a consultation immediately. There are rare but life-threatening complications that may arise from persistent spinal headaches.

Does a spinal headache feel like a migraine? Yes, spinal headaches share a lot of symptoms with other headaches, such as tension headaches or migraines

When to Seek Help

Spinal headaches usually go away with no treatment. 2 out of 10 people who suffer from a spinal headache can often relieve pain with chiropractic care and all-natural or over-the-counter painkillers. 

But there are a few reasons you should seek medical advice when you get a spinal headache.

When are symptoms serious enough to see a healthcare professional?

  • If your headaches recur
  • If you experience severe headache pain
  • If your headache doesn’t go away after 24 hours
  • If, after a spinal tap, you have difficulty urinating or lose feeling in your back/legs

How would a doctor diagnose a spinal headache? A doctor will gather your medical history to evaluate your risk factors when diagnosing a spinal headache. If you have had a lumbar puncture in the past couple of weeks, diagnosis is pretty simple, and further testing is not needed.

If you have not had a recent spinal tap, the doctor might use an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to find the origin of your spinal headache. An MRI lets the doctor look into the brain and spine for leaking cerebrospinal fluid.

Can a spinal headache go away on its own? Yes, 8 out of 10 spinal headaches go away on their own without treatment.

For the other 2 out of 10, fret not. There are some natural treatments, such as all-natural painkillers and chiropractic care, that may provide relief.

Effective Spinal Headache Remedies

Treating spinal headaches doesn’t have to be complicated. At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we believe in treating the root cause of your headache.

How do you get rid of a spinal headache? Here are some all-natural remedies to get rid of a spinal headache:

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care is the best way to solve issues with cerebrospinal fluid levels.

Upper cervical chiropractic care is effective at normalizing cerebrospinal fluid pressure. A lot of research supports chiropractic care’s ability to treat headaches.

Chiropractic alignment also reduces the physical stress that can lead to headaches. We have helped so many people recover completely.

Chiropractic care is essential for headache prevention since spinal misalignment and spinal fluid levels contribute to headaches. Studies show that visiting a high-quality chiropractor can reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity of headaches — as well as your reliance on pharmaceuticals.


The first course of treatment for spinal headaches is proper hydrate.

Drinking plenty of fluids can increase your cerebrospinal fluid pressure, provide adequate cushioning, and relieve headache pain. Many doctors will even suggest drinking high-caffeine drinks.

Hydration is not as consistently effective as blood patch treatment. 

Blood Patch

A commonly prescribed treatment for spinal headaches is a blood patch.

Also called an epidural blood patch, this is where the patient’s own blood is injected into the epidural space. This causes a blood clot that patches up the leak.

70% of people who use an epidural blood patch get rid of their spinal headache pretty quickly. Those who do not improve may require a second blood patch or even specialized stitches.

Blood patches come with the standard minimal risk of any epidural procedure. But its effectiveness outweighs the slight risks.

Surgical Glue or Stitches

In rare cases, a doctor may utilize surgical glue or stitches to patch up the tiny hole in your spinal cord. This is usually only considered if a blood patch could not fix your spinal headache.

All-Natural Painkillers

Several dietary supplements can help you deal with the headache pain. These don’t treat the root cause of your spinal headache, but pain relief is often a powerful asset. 

Try supplements for spinal headache such as:

Rare Spinal Headache Complications

In rare situations, if your spinal headache goes untreated, it can trigger complications, sometimes life-threatening:

  • Bleeding in your skull (called “subdural hematoma”)
  • Bleeding in your back
  • Infection
  • Seizure

Looking to the Future

If you ever have a spinal tap or head injury, it’s smart to prepare for the possibility of an imbalance of spinal fluid and the development of a spinal headache.

Chiropractic care may help to regulate cerebrospinal fluid levels and prevent headache symptoms. Consider seeing a chiropractor if you experience persistent headaches.

It’s rare for people to experience these headaches more than once. If you experience recurring spinal headaches, consult a medical professional right away — it might be a warning sign of something life-threatening.

If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to set up an appointment at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.

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