Spinal Pump, Intrathecal Pump

Intrathecal pump implanted in the abdomenSpinal or intrathecal pump is a term that means a pain pump.  The term intrathecal refers to the fluid-filled space around your spinal cord.  Intrathecal pumps are a battery-powered drug delivery device that is implanted inside your body, often in the abdomen, and is programmed to release the drug over a period of time.  The drug travels from the pump through thin tubes (catheters) implanted into the spine’s intrathecal space.  The pump contains a reservoir to hold a drug in a liquid form.  The reservoir is periodically refilled through a port in the pump at your doctor’s office via a needle inserted through the skin.

Potential benefits of intrathecal pumps

The pain-relieving drug works faster.  Unlike oral medication, it does not need to be processed through the body’s digestive system.  Therefore, the brain’s perception of pain is more quickly masked.  Pain is managed better and more consistently because the pump dispenses the drug in small amounts over a period of time.  Because of this, less pain medication is needed. More effective pain control can help a chronic pain patient be more active and improves quality of life.

Are you a candidate for an intrathecal pump?

Your doctor can answer that question and is the best resource for questions you have.

You may qualify if…

  • Non-operative treatments fail
  • Spine surgery won’t help improve your pain
  • You depend on pain medication
  • Your health does not prevent you from undergoing surgery
  • You received good pain relief during the intrathecal pump trial

Being sure an intrathecal pump works for you

You trial or test the pain pump first.  Under local anesthetic, the catheters are temporarily implanted into your spine and attached to the intrathecal pump worn outside your body.  The length of the trial period is determined by your doctor.  If the pump system provides good pain relief, the next step is to surgically implant the device.

Surgical implantation of the spinal pump

Under general anesthesia, the trial device is completely removed.  Through an incision, new catheters are more permanently implanted in the spinal canal.  A separate incision in the abdominal area is made, and the pump is implanted and connected to the catheters.

The procedure is completely reversible.  In other words, if you and your doctor ever decide to remove the pump, it can be surgically removed.

Possible risks, side effects of intrathecal pumps

No treatment is without possible risks and side effects.  As with any surgery, there is a risk for infection and bleeding.  Side effects are those related to the drug delivered through the pump.  Depending on the characteristics of your chronic pain, you may need to take supplemental oral doses of medication to control spikes or flare ups of severe pain.

Patient-friendly information

Your doctor provides you with information about the intrathecal pump, such as a patient-friendly educational video.  He will explain how you may benefit as well as your potential risks and side effects.

You can also learn more about spinal drug delivery pumps / intrathecal pumps from the following sources:

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