What Is an Implantable Pain Pump?


An implantable pain pump, or intrathecal pain pump, is a device that is surgically implanted under the skin. It delivers pain medication directly into the fluid-filled area around the spinal cord (the intrathecal space). This prevents pain receptors near the spine from sending pain signals to the brain.

The use of a pain pump is also known as intrathecal therapy. This type of pain management can be used when oral pain medications do not provide sufficient relief or cause severe side effects, such as fatigue, nausea or constipation. Pain pumps can also help with cancer-related pain and chronic pain conditions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three medications for pain pump use: baclofen (a muscle relaxant), morphine (an opioid), and ziconotide (an opioid).

How does an implantable pain pump work?

Local or general anesthesia is used during the implantation process. A thin tube is inserted into the fluid-filled area around the spinal cord. The tube is connected to a pain pump device, which is usually implanted under the skin in the abdominal area. The device contains a reservoir that contains the pain medication. The pain pump can be programmed to release medication on a regular basis. The reservoir is refilled as needed (usually once per month) through an injection given by a physician.

Benefits of an implantable pain pump

An implantable pain pump offers many benefits for individuals living with chronic pain conditions. First, pain medication delivered through a pain pump can be up to 300 times stronger than medication administered orally, which means a significantly lower dosage of medication can be used. In addition, since the medication is delivered directly to the spinal fluid instead of traveling through the digestive system to reach the bloodstream, various side effects can be reduced or eliminated. Finally, some medications that cannot be taken orally, such as ziconotide, can be delivered through a pain pump.

Risks associated with implantable pain pumps

The main risks associated with a pain pump are a complication with the catheter or a reaction to the medication (which can happen with any type of medication administration). Infections and spinal damage are also possible. A collection of inflammatory cells, known as a granuloma, can form at the end of the catheter, preventing the medication from being delivered. If this occurs, the catheter needs replacement.

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