Intrathecal Drug Pain Pump

What Is an Intrathecal Drug Pain Pump?

An intrathecal pump or a "pain pump" is a device that delivers small quantities of pain medication such as morphine, directly to the spinal fluid.  When delivered in small doses, pain medications may minimize the side effects often experienced with larger oral doses of the same medications.

A pump can lessen the pain associated with failed back surgery, cancer, or nerve pain. It can also reduce spasticity, or muscle rigidity, in patients with:

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Stroke

  • Brain injury

  • Spinal cord injury

A trial intrathecal injection or a temporary intrathecal pump is usually performed to determine whether the medication is effective and a permanent pump is appropriate.

The intrathecal pump itself consists of a metal pump that stores and delivers the medication, and a catheter that delivers the medication to the space around the spinal cord.  The pump can be programmed to slowly release the medication over a period of time, or to deliver the medication at different times of the day.

Intrathecal drug pain pump procedure

To implant the device, the physician makes a small incision in the back to place the catheter in the affected area of the spine.  Then an extension catheter is passed under the skin from the spine around the torso to the abdomen where the pump is implanted.

Intrathecal drug pain pump benefits

Chronic pain patients may experience a reduction in pain as well as an overall improvement in activities of daily living, and patients with spasticity may see a reduction in rigidity and muscle spasms.  Oral medications and their side effects are greatly reduced because the medication in the pump is delivered directly to the spinal cord, so much smaller doses are needed.