Intrathecal Pain Pumps

What Is an Intrathecal Pain Pump?

Our spinal cord is surrounded by a fluid-filled space called the intrathecal space. This is where cerebrospinal fluid, a clear, colorless fluid, flows, protecting our brain and spinal cord. An intrathecal pain pump refers to a method of delivering medication directly to the spinal cord via a small, pump-like implant. By releasing medication directly into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord, patients may experience faster relief and fewer or more tolerable drug side effects.

The pump is a metal device roughly the size of a hockey puck. The system consists of a pump and catheter, both of which are surgically placed under the skin. The pump is a round device that stores and delivers pain medication. It is placed in your abdomen. The catheter –a thin, flexible tube–- is inserted into your spine and connected to the pump. The device is programmable to deliver medication over a specified time slowly. It can also be configured to release different amounts of drugs at various times of the day. The pump stores information about your prescription and can be refillable.

How Does an Intrathecal Pain Pump Work?

During the procedure, an intravenous (IV) line is started to help deliver anesthetics. Once under, patients are position onto one of their sides to get better access to the back. A small incision is then created to insert the catheter in the intrathecal space surrounding the spinal cord. A catheter extension is then passed through the skin and into the abdomen area, where the pump will be implanted.

Next, the physician makes another incision on the side of the abdomen where the pump is inserted between the skin and muscle layers. Lastly, both incisions are closed and dressed accordingly. After the surgery, you will be taken to the recovery area, where your vitals and pain levels will be monitored. Most people are able to go home the same day with instructions to help ensure a successful recovery.

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How to Prepare For an Intrathecal Pain Pump

In order to determine if you are a good candidate for an intrathecal pain pump implant, patients must undergo a trial period. This period is designed to test if the medication indeed decreases pain levels before inserting the device. This is done by injecting intrathecal medication once or multiple times. We will also need to conduct a thorough physical examination and carefully consider your medical and family history. Some tests such as blood work, x-rays, MRIs, or CT scans may be recommended as well.

If you or someone you know is suffering from any of the symptoms discussed above, please contact our team as soon as possible. Our interventional pain specialists have decades of pain management and recovery expertise. We’d be happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you might have regarding your condition or the care options available to you.

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