Benefits and Risks – Programmable Drug Pumps

Studies show that programmable drug pumps (intrathecal drug delivery systems) may increase pain relief and comfort for people with severe chronic pain.1-5 Talk with your doctor about the benefits, risks, and responsibilities involved with using a drug pump for chronic pain.


Typically, people who have success with pumps:

  • Experience significant pain relief1-5
  • Use significantly smaller doses than oral medication1-5
  • Have fewer side effects than those using oral medications1-5
  • Are able to improve their activities of daily living1-5

In addition, with this treatment:

  • Dosage may be adjusted for your comfort
  • It is reversible – your doctor can remove the system
  • Therapy can be tried for a short period of time before you receive a permanent implant


As with any pain treatment, side effects can occur.

Risks may include:

  • Surgical complications, such as infection
  • Drug side effects (symptoms of overdose or underdose)
  • Blood (haematoma) or fluid (seroma) in the area where the pump is implanted
  • Spinal fluid leaks resulting in headaches or other problems, and injury to the spinal cord
  • A dislodged or blocked catheter
  • The pump could stop working
  • Inflammatory mass at the tip of the catheter

These complications could cause a reduction in or loss of pain relief and may require surgery to correct.


  1. Onofrio BM, Yaksh TL. Long-Term Pain Relief Produced by Intrathecal Infusion in 53 Patients. J Neurosurg 1990; 72: 200-209.
  2. Winkelmuller M, Winkelmuller W. Long-Term Effects of Continuous Intrathecal Opioid Treatment in Chronic Pain of Nonmalignant Etiology. J Neurosurg 1996; 85: 458-467.
  3. Paice JA, Penn RD, Shott S. Intraspinal Morphine for Chronic Pain: A Retrospective, Multicenter Study. J Pain Symptom Manage 1996; 11(2): 71-80.
  4. Lamer TJ. Treatment of Cancer-Related Pain: When Orally Administered Medications Fail. Mayo Clin Proc 1994; 69:473-480.
  5. Portenoy RK. Management of Common Opioid Side Effects During Long-Term Therapy of Cancer Pain. Ann Acad Med 1994; 23:160-170.


Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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