What is Intrathecal Pump Implants?

An Intrathecal Pump Implants is a form of treatment that involves injecting powerful anti-inflammatory corticosteroids into a joint. This type of injection is routinely performed on patients suffering from a variety of conditions that cause inflammation in the joints of the body. Intrathecal Pump Implantss have been used on patients since 1951. Since then, they have been the subject of numerous medical studies that have revealed their benefits in treating pain and inflammation.

Intrathecal Pump Implantss are often considered when oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and the analgesic acetaminophen (Tylenol) are not effective to control pain and inflammation.  Intrathecal Pump Implantss decrease inflammation by lowering the number of lymphocytes, mast cells, macrophages, and inflammatory mediators. Intrathecal Pump Implantss can be performed on the hips, knees, shoulders, hands, and other inflamed joints of the body. The primary goals of these injections are to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and help increase mobility in the affected joint.

How are Intrathecal Pump Implants Performed?

Prior to the placement of the intrathecal pump, doctors administer local anesthesia and sedation through an IV line. The patient’s skin on the back and stomach is then sanitized and prepared for placement of the catheter and pump. Next, the physician uses a fluoroscopic x-ray to guide and place a catheter into the intrathecal space of the back.
Once the catheter is in place, the doctor makes an incision in the side of the abdomen for placement of the pump, which is connected to the catheter. At the conclusion of the procedure, the incision is closed with sutures or staples and a dressing is applied. The entire procedure can be performed in an outpatient setting and takes one to two hours. Physicians refill the medication in the pump periodically (every four to six weeks) by injecting pain medication through the patient’s skin and into the pump.
Since the approval of this procedure in 1991, scientists have conducted a large amount of research regarding the safety and efficacy of intrathecal pump implants. A large amount of this research has been conducted on its effectiveness in controlling cancer pain. The World Health Organization has published literature that states that approximately 10% to 20% of terminally ill cancer patients require more intensive measures than oral medications to control pain.

One large randomized trial investigated this issue. During this trial, researchers sampled 202 cancer patients with a pain level of 7.5 or higher on a scale of one to ten. At the conclusion of the study, the patients who had intrathecal pain pumps reported significant decreases in pain as well as a reduction of the side effects commonly associated with oral medication.
Additional studies regarding intrathecal pump implants for severe back pain and other chronic painful conditions have also reported successful results. Much of the research initially focused on failed back syndrome; however, successful indications have also been revealed in regional pain syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, and other diseases.
Intrathecal pump implants have been proven to be safe and effective surgical options for pain management. However, as with all procedures and medication, there is still a risk of potential complications. Potential adverse affects include infection, bleeding, nausea, vomiting, constipation, facial flushing, and sleepiness.

Conditions Related To Intrathecal Pump Implants

Before doctors implant an intrathecal pump, they have typically exhausted other avenues of pain management, such as the use of oral medications. They also prescribe initial trial doses of the medication to assess for any potential allergies, and conduct patient assessments to eliminate the possibility of other conditions that are present that may impede the implantation procedure. Candidates for intrathecal pump implants require the sustained delivery of pain medication to treat a variety of conditions associated with chronic pain.

Current medical research has revealed favorable outcomes regarding the use of intrathecal pump implants for the following conditions:

  • Cancer pain
  • Failed back surgery
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Post herpetic neuralgia (shingles)
  • Causalgia (peripheral nerve injury)
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Stroke


Once all other conservative methods have been exhausted, the intrathecal pump implant remains a sound option to help alleviate chronic pain. This well-established treatment has been the subject of many studies that have shown favorable results concerning its safety and efficacy. It remains a sound substitute for oral opioids and other prescription pain medications.

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