What is an Intrathecal Pump?

by Dr. Whitney James, MD

When patients with chronic pain have exhausted all other therapies — topical creams, oral pain medication, physical therapy, injections and even surgery — there still remains a light at the end of the therapeutic tunnel. An intrathecal pump can successfully manage pain, improve quality of life and restore a sense of health again. 

An intrathecal pump is an implanted medical device to deliver medication into the spinal fluid between the spinal cord and its lining. This allows for targeted drug delivery to the neurons in the spinal cord responsible for pain and spasticity. 

These pumps are particularly helpful in the management of metastatic cancer pain. The pump’s method of targeted drug delivery often provides patients superior pain relief, allowing patients to wean off oral medications and avoid negative side effects such as constipation, fatigue and drug dependence. 

Spasticity, or increased muscle tone, that results from conditions such as stroke and multiple sclerosis can also be successfully managed with targeted intrathecal drug delivery. An intrathecal pump can deliver anti-spasticity medication directly to the neurons in the spinal cord that are responsible for the increased muscle tone, which results in relaxation of the muscles and allows a patient more mobility and comfort. 

Intrathecal pumps can significantly improve the quality of life in patients with:

  • Chronic pain 
  • Cancer pain
  • Failed back surgery syndrome 
  • Complex regional pain syndrome or reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Peripheral nerve injury
  • Neuropathy 
  • Arachnoiditis
  • Chronic pancreatitis

Intrathecal pumps can help successfully treat spasticity or increased muscle tone, in patients with: 

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Stroke
  • Spinal cord injury