An intrathecal pump implant can help patients suffering from chronic pain when other pain management therapies fail to provide relief. An intrathecal pump implant is one method of effectively delivering pain-relieving medication directly to the spinal cord before the pain signals can reach the brain.
Medication delivered from a pain pump can be as much as 300 times stronger than an equivalent oral dose. Because the pain medication is delivered directly to the spinal area instead of the bloodstream (as with pills), there are usually fewer side effects leading to less fatigue and improved mental sharpness. In addition, pain medications not available for taking orally may be administered through an intrathecal pump implant.
An intrathecal pump (also called an ITP, IDDS, or just a “pain pump”) is a small, automated device that is programmed to deliver medication through a thin, flexible tube (catheter). The purpose of the procedure is to continuously saturate pain receptors with medication to help relieve the pain.
The pump and the catheter are implanted under the skin during a minor surgical procedure. The catheter delivers the medicine into the space between the spinal cord and the vertebrae that protect it (the intrathecal space), which contains the cerebrospinal fluid. A small electronic device that stays outside of the body controls the pump. As needed, the doctor will refill the pump with medication during a simple outpatient clinic visit.
Conditions Treated with Intrathecal Pump Implants
The intrathecal pump implant can be helpful when oral pain medications and other pain management methods are ineffective at controlling pain. There are three basic types of chronic pain that an intrathecal pump can help treat.
Neuropathic pain (called peripheral or central nervous system pain). Some examples of neuropathic pain include:
Spasmodic pain, an abnormal increase in muscle tone and tightening of the muscles that can result from impairments in the brain or spinal cord. Typically, treated with anti-spastic muscle-relaxing medications, an intrathecal pump can help treat:
Spinal cord injury.
Nociceptive pain, or pain from tissue irritation, is usually localized. It can be a constant pain that may benefit from an intrathecal pump implant.
How Does an Intrathecal Pump Implant Work?
As with spinal cord stimulation and peripheral nerve field therapy, the patient undergoes a trial period before beginning the treatment long term. For the trial, a doctor administers the pain medication to the spinal fluid manually. If the patient finds adequate pain relief, an intrathecal pump may be the proper pain management procedure.
The intrathecal pump is implanted during a surgical procedure with local anesthesia and sedation (general anesthesia is usually not required). The procedure is most often performed in a hospital or outpatient surgery center. Recovery time is about 6 to 8 weeks, during which the patient may experience some discomfort and movement limitations.
The pump is programmed immediately upon placement and is operational following the implant procedure. Depending on the type of medication, the pain relief can begin within minutes to hours.
The pump limits the maximum amount of pain medication administered each day to prevent the patient from overdosing. Both the patient and the doctor can track the history of the medicine delivery. The intrathecal pump can be removed at any time.
Who Can Benefit from an Intrathecal Pump Implant?
The intrathecal pump allows targeted pain medication delivery at a much lower dose than oral medications require, which helps reduce side effects. Although an intrathecal pump may not eliminate pain, it can offer significant pain relief. Many patients are able to reduce their reliance on other medications with the use of an intrathecal pump.
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and treats patients with chronic pain with numerous therapies, including intrathecal pump implants. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle while minimizing the need for opiates.