Intrathecal Space and Drug Pumps

Also known as the subarachnoid space, the intrathecal space is the fluid-filled area located between the innermost layer of covering (the pia mater) of the spinal cord and the middle layer of covering (the arachnoid mater).

A drug monitoring device being used

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Implanted Intrathecal Drug-Delivery Systems (IDDSs)

The intrathecal space may serve as a route of administration for drugs used in implantable pain management treatments. For example, implanted drug pumps, also known as pain pumps or morphine pump, may use this route.

Distributing pain medication into the intrathecal space instead of taking a pill bypasses the need for the body to digest and absorb the medication in the gastrointestinal tract. This usually translates into more powerful pain control with smaller doses. For this reason, an injection of pain medication into the intrathecal space may provide significantly more pain relief than other therapies for people with severe, relentless pain.

It's also a non-permanent solution to challenging chronic back pain. In other words, if you try it and don't like it, or if you decide on a different treatment approach, you don't have to continue — the pump can be surgically removed.

Your pain physician may suggest that you consider an implanted intrathecal drug-delivery system if you have severe, long-term, pain and despite treatment with non-invasive or non-surgical methods.

Many medications used in intrathecal drug pumps have to be specially compounded for this use.

Risks of Drug Pumps

Although a pump that delivers medication into the intrathecal space can help reduce pain, this procedure comes with a few risks. Infection, spinal fluid leaks, headaches, and device malfunction are among the leading risks of having an intrathecal drug pump for pain control.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Benefits and Risks - Drug Pumps. Chronic Pain. Medtronic.

  • Ghafoor V.L, Epshteyn M, Carlson G., Terhaar D., Charry O., Phelps P. Intrathecal Drug Therapy for Long-Term Pain Management. Am J Health Syst Pharm. Dec 2007.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.