The objective was to determine if use of ultrasound (US) by emergency physicians (EPs) to localize spinal landmarks improves the performance of lumbar puncture (LP).
This was a prospective, randomized, controlled study conducted in a county teaching hospital. Subjects, adults 18 years of age or older who were to receive LPs for routine clinical care in the emergency department (ED), were randomized either to undergo US localization of the puncture site or to have the puncture site determined by palpation of spinal landmarks. Primary outcomes were the number of needle insertion attempts and success of the procedure. Secondary outcomes were pain associated with the procedure, time to perform the procedure, number of traumatic taps, and patient satisfaction with the procedure.
One-hundred patients were enrolled in the study, with 50 in each study group. There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of age, sex, body mass index (BMI), indication for LP, or ease of palpation of landmarks. For both primary outcomes and secondary outcomes there were no significant differences between those undergoing US localization and those with palpation alone.
These data do not suggest any advantage to the routine use of US localization for LP insertion, although further study may be warranted to look for benefit in the difficult to palpate or obese patient subgroups.