An intrathecal pump implant (spinal pain pump) is used to decrease the amount of pain medication that a patient must take to experience relief. The pump is implanted under the skin. A catheter is run from this pump to the location of pain in the spine. By administering the pain medication directly, a more potent effect is experienced and the amount of medication needed can be reduced. Spinal pain pumps are used by doctors, including Dr. Solomon Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest, as a way to alleviate chronic back pain.
What is a Spinal Pain Pump?
An intrathecal drug pump is a round, metal, hockey puck-sized device that is inserted under the skin of the abdomen. A small plastic tube is run from the device into the fluid-filled space around the spine. The pump is programmed to release specific amounts of medication slowly, throughout the day. The doctor can easily raise or lower this amount.
How Does a Spinal Pain Pump Work?
There are three parts to a pain pump: the catheter, the receiver, and the external controller. The external controller is used by your doctor to turn the pump on and off, or to adjust the level of medication that is released throughout the day. The receiver, which has a reservoir full of pain medication, releases the medication at the rate specified by the doctor. The medication then travels through the catheter and into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The CSF flows through the area around the spinal cord and both bathes and protects the brain and spinal cord. By administering the pain medication into this fluid, only 1/300 of the pain medication needs to be administered.
What are the Benefits of Spinal Pain Pumps?
There are many benefits to intrathecal drug delivery. One of the biggest benefits is that it reduces the need for oral medications. Because less medication is needed, the side effects that are often associated with pain medication are reduced. In some instances, a patient-controlled programmer is used. This allows the patient to adjust the dosage of their device within certain parameters. The spinal surgeon closely monitors the patient’s pain levels to determine if the pump is working, or if a different amount of medication is needed. Finally, the intrathecal pump can be removed at any time. It is performed as an outpatient procedure, and doesn’t require much time for recovery.
How is a Spinal Pain Pump Implanted?
The intrathecal drug implant is placed under the skin in a simple, minimally invasive procedure. This is done under anesthesia. The surgeon places the catheter first. A small incision is made in the back, through which the catheter is placed into the intrathecal space. It is secured in place with sutures. Then, the surgeon will pass the catheter under the skin, from the spine to the abdomen. Next, the surgeon makes a 4 to 6 inch incision in the side of the abdomen, creating a pocket between the skin and muscle layers. Then, the surgeon attaches the extension catheter. The catheter is placed under the skin and sutured to the fascia layer over the stomach muscles. Last, the surgeon closes the incisions in the back and stomach using staples or sutures. Often, the patient can be discharged two to three hours after the procedure.