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New Onset Lumbar Radicular Pain After Implantation of an Intrathecal Drug Delivery System: Imaging Catheter Migration
  1. William M. Ko, M.D. and
  2. Michael F. Ferrante, M.D.
  1. From the UCLA Pain Management Center, Department of Anesthesiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Santa Monica, CA
  1. Reprint requests: F. Michael Ferrante, M.D., UCLA Pain Management Center, 1245 16th Street, Suite 225, Santa Monica, CA 90404. E-mail: mferrante{at}


Background and Objectives: Implanted delivery systems for intrathecal drug administration have become more commonplace in the management of refractory cancer and nonmalignant pain. Complications may be related to drug side effects or to technical problems possibly involving the pump and/or catheter. The occurrence of postimplantation, new onset, lumbar radicular pain warrants careful clinical and radiographic examination. We suggest a paradigm for imaging of potential intervertebral foraminal catheter migration.

Case Report: New onset, intractable, lumbar radicular pain occurred 3 months after implantation of a one-piece catheter into the lumbar cistern. Magnetic resonance imaging of the lumbar spine showed no granuloma but rather a contrast-enhancing lesion at the right L4-L5 intervertebral foramen. Subsequent computed tomography revealed migration of the catheter into the intervertebral foramen. Surgical repositioning of the catheter resulted in resolution of the symptoms.

Conclusion: Patients with implanted drug delivery systems with positioning of the catheter tip into the lumbar cistern may develop new onset lumbar radicular pain as a result of catheter migration into an intervertebral foramen. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is suggested as the initial imaging study to survey the spine and to evaluate for granuloma formation. Reimaging with computed tomography is essential to follow the course of the catheter and to delineate distal catheter tip location. It is suggested that positioning of the distal catheter tip at a location midway between the superior and inferior articular surfaces of the facet joint may minimize this complication.

  • Catheter migration
  • Complication
  • Computed tomography
  • Implanted drug delivery system
  • Intrathecal
  • Magnetic resonance imaging

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  • Supported by funding from UCLA Pain Management Center, Department of Anesthesiology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.