Pain Pumps: Faster and Direct Pain Relief

Jun 12, 2023

Intrathecal Pain Pumps

Chronic pain can impact every aspect of your life. If you have exhausted conventional treatments without finding adequate relief, alternative solutions like intrathecal pain pumps can offer the pain relief you deserve.

What is an Intrathecal Pain Pump?

An intrathecal pain pump, also known as an intrathecal drug delivery system, is a medical device used to manage chronic pain. It consists of a small pump that delivers medication directly into the intrathecal space, the area around the spinal cord. The pump is implanted surgically under the skin of the abdomen or buttocks, and a catheter is threaded into the intrathecal space.

The intrathecal pain pump is designed to provide targeted pain relief by delivering medication directly to the spinal cord, where pain signals are transmitted. This method allows for lower doses of medication compared to oral or systemic administration, reducing the risk of side effects while potentially providing more effective pain relief.


What medication is used in pain pumps?

The medication used in the intrathecal pain pump is typically an opioid analgesic, such as morphine or hydromorphone, although other medications, such as local anesthetics or muscle relaxants, may be used depending on the specific pain condition. The pump is programmable, allowing healthcare providers to adjust the dose and delivery rate of the medication to meet the individual patient's needs.

When are pain pumps suggested?

The use of intrathecal pain pumps is generally reserved for patients with severe chronic pain that has not responded adequately to other conservative treatments such as physical therapy, strength training programs, or injections. Common indications for intrathecal pain pump therapy include failed back surgery syndrome, cancer pain, complex regional pain syndrome, and other types of chronic pain that have not improved with conventional therapies.

The implantation of an intrathecal pain pump requires a comprehensive evaluation by a pain management specialist or anesthesiologist experienced in this procedure. The benefits and risks of the therapy should be discussed thoroughly with the patient, as there are potential complications associated with the surgical implantation and long-term use of the pump, such as infection, catheter or pump malfunction, and side effects from the medication. Regular follow-up appointments are necessary to monitor the effectiveness of the therapy, adjust the medication dosage if needed, and ensure proper functioning of the pump.


What are the benefits of intrathecal pain pumps? 

  • Targeted Pain Relief: The primary advantage of intrathecal pain pumps is their ability to deliver medication directly to the spinal cord, where pain signals are transmitted. This targeted delivery allows for more effective pain relief compared to oral or systemic medications. By delivering the medication directly to the site of action, lower doses can be used, reducing the risk of systemic side effects while potentially providing better pain control.
  • Reduced Systemic Side Effects: When pain medications are taken orally or administered systemically (e.g., through pills, injections, or intravenous infusions), they circulate throughout the body, potentially leading to a range of side effects. By delivering the medication directly into the intrathecal space, intrathecal pain pumps minimize systemic exposure, reducing the risk of side effects such as sedation, constipation, nausea, and respiratory depression.
  • Increased Medication Efficacy: Intrathecal drug delivery can improve the effectiveness of pain medications. Since the medication is delivered directly to the spinal cord, it can target the specific pain pathways involved, potentially providing more significant pain relief than oral medications alone.
  • Lower Medication Doses: Because intrathecal pain pumps deliver medication directly to the spinal cord, lower doses are often required compared to oral or systemic administration. Lower medication doses can reduce the risk of side effects and potential complications associated with higher doses of opioids or other pain medications.
  • Improved Function and Quality of Life: Chronic pain can significantly impact an individual's daily functioning, mobility, and overall quality of life. By effectively managing pain with an intrathecal pain pump, individuals may experience improved pain control, allowing them to engage in daily activities, participate in physical therapy, and experience a better overall quality of life.
  • Customized Pain Management: Intrathecal pain pumps are programmable, allowing healthcare providers to adjust the medication dose, delivery rate, and timing according to an individual's specific pain needs. This customization enables healthcare providers to optimize pain control and address any changes in pain levels over time.

It is important to note that the benefits of intrathecal pain pumps should be carefully considered in consultation with a pain management specialist. The decision to use an intrathecal pain pump should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient's condition, pain severity, response to previous treatments, and potential risks and benefits of the therapy. Intrathecal pain pumps are one of the many minimally invasive treatments offered at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics. For more information about the services offered at Garden State Pain and Orthopedics visit our services page. If you have any questions regarding pain pumps continue reading or schedule an appointment with on of our providers by selecting the “Book Now” button. 


Common questions regarding pain pumps

  • What types of chronic pain conditions are suitable for intrathecal pain pump therapy?
    • Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS)
    • Cancer pain
    • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) 
    • Chronic pancreatitis
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Other chronic pain conditions
  • How effective is intrathecal pain pump therapy in managing chronic pain?
    • Pain pumps are very effective at providing direct pain relief. The medication plan is tailored to the individual and specifically targeted. 
  • What are the potential side effects and risks associated with intrathecal pain pumps?
    • Side effects include side effects from medication, catheter or pump malfunction, surgical risks, and under or overdose of medication. It is important to attend your follow up appointments to make sure the pump is working properly and the medication is the correct dosage. 
  • How long is the recovery process like?
    • Patients go home the same day after surgery. Complete recovery usually takes around 6 weeks. 
  • How long does the intrathecal pain pump battery last, and how often does it need to be replaced?
    • Depending on the device used, pain pumps typically last 5-7 years. 
  • Can the medication dose and delivery rate be adjusted over time?
    • Yes, the medication and delivery rate can be adjusted by your doctor. 
  • How often will follow-up appointments be required for monitoring and adjustment of the therapy?
    • Appointments are required every 4-6 months to check up on patient health, and the pain pump system. 
  • Are there any restrictions or lifestyle changes necessary with an intrathecal pain pump?
    • Yes, thanks to the pain relief from pain pumps, patients see an improvement in quality of life and ability to do the things they used to do before having pain. 
  • Can the intrathecal pain pump be removed if needed?
    • Yes, if you no longer want or need the intrathecal pain pump, it can be removed. 

It is important to note that the effectiveness of pain pumps can vary from person to person. The success of the therapy depends on several factors, including proper patient selection, accurate diagnosis, appropriate medication selection, and regular monitoring and adjustment of the therapy. A thorough evaluation by a pain management specialist is crucial to determine if a pain pump is a suitable option and to optimize its effectiveness for each individual case.