Living With a Neurostimulator or Programmable Drug Pump

Once your Medtronic programmable drug pump or neurostimulator is implanted and the implant site is healed, you and your doctor will work together to develop a pain management program. That program may include other types of therapies in addition to your Medtronic device, like physical therapy and exercise, with the goal of helping you to restore function for daily living.

Daily Living – Neurostimulators

If successful, neurostimulation can help you manage your chronic pain and improve your ability to participate in your usual daily activities.1-6 Talk with your doctor about activities that may be easier with neurostimulation.

Life With a Neurostimulator

After the initial healing period (6-8 weeks), neurostimulation therapy for pain relief will become a routine part of your day.

The neurostimulator:

  • Does not make any noise
  • Does not usually show through your clothes
  • May be felt as a small bump under your skin
  • Can be adjusted using hand-held programmers (similar to a cell phone or pager)

Doctor Visits

A typical follow-up schedule is once every 6 months, although initially the neurostimulation system may require more frequent adjustments. Your doctor may want to see you more or less frequently, depending on your pain treatment plan.

Between visits, you should call your doctor if:

  • You experience additional/unusual pain
  • You notice unusual changes in the quality of your stimulation or you experience no sensation when the neurostimulation system is turned on
  • You are increasing stimulation more often than normal
  • The stimulation pattern changes unexpectedly

Realistic Expectations

Realistic expectations are key to satisfaction with any pain treatment. It is important to remember that your neurostimulator will not eliminate the source of your pain or cure any underlying disease, but can help you manage the pain.

Removing the Neurostimulator

If you no longer need the neurostimulator or change your mind about the pain treatment, your doctor can turn it off or remove the system.

Daily Living – Drug Pumps

After the initial healing period (6 to 8 weeks), the drug pump will become a routine part of your day. In fact, clinical studies show that many people who did not get chronic pain relief from oral medications were able to improve their daily activities with a drug pump. (Results may vary.)7-11

Seeing the Pump

Your pump is placed near the surface of your skin for refill access. You may be able to see the pump under your skin when it is not covered with clothes, or if you are wearing fitted clothes. Depending on your size and shape, where the pump is implanted, and the size of your pump, the pump may not show at all.

Doctor Visits

You will need to return to your doctor’s office periodically for checkups and to have your pump refilled. The medication in your pump needs to be refilled every 6 to 12 weeks, depending on your dosage and the size of your pump.

Refilling and Adjusting the Pump

The doctor fills the pump with pain medication using a needle. You and your doctor must work together to find the dose of medication that is most comfortable for you.

Finding the best pain medication dose for you may take some time. If your pump is programmable, you can also have different doses programmed to adjust to different activities or times of the day.

Caution With Activities

Some movements may stretch or put strain on the catheter or on the stitches that hold your pump in place. Your doctor may give you guidelines for activities to avoid.

Although the catheter is made of flexible and durable materials, it is still subject to wear. Excessive or repetitive bending, twisting, bouncing, or stretching can move or stretch the catheter. This damage may require surgery to repair.

Realistic Expectations

Realistic expectations are key to satisfaction with any pain treatment. It is important to remember that your pump will not eliminate the source of your pain or cure any underlying disease, but may help you to better manage your pain.

Removing the Pump

If you no longer need the pump or change your mind about the pain treatment, your doctor can turn it off or remove the system.


  1. North R, Kidd D, Zuhurak, M, et al. Spinal Cord Stimulation for Chronic, Intractable Pain: Experience Over Two Decades. Neurosurgery 1993;32 384-395.
  2. Kumar K, Toth C, Nath R, et al. Epidural Spinal Cord Stimulation for Treatment of Chronic Pain—Some Predictors of Success. A 15-Year Experience. Surg Neurol 1998;50:110-121.
  3. De La Porte C, Van de Kelft E. Spinal Cord Stimulation in Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. Pain 1993;52:55-61.
  4. Devulder J, De Laat M, Van Bastalaere M, et al. Spinal Cord Stimulation: A Valuable Treatment for Chronic Failed Back Surgery Patients. J Pain Symptom Manage 1997;13:296-301.
  5. Burchiel K, Anderson V, et al. Prospective, Multicenter Study of Spinal Cord Stimulation for Relief of Chronic Back and Extremity Pain. Spine 1996;21:2786-2794.
  6. Turner J, Loeser J, Bell K. Spinal Cord Stimulation for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Systematic Literature Synthesis. Neurosurgery 1995;37:1088-1096.
  7. Onofrio BM, Yaksh TL. Long-Term Pain Relief Produced by Intrathecal Infusion in 53 Patients. J Neurosurg 1990; 72: 200-209.
  8. Winkelmuller M, Winkelmuller W. Long-Term Effects of Continuous Intrathecal Opioid Treatment in Chronic Pain of Nonmalignant Etiology. J Neurosurg 1996; 85: 458-467.
  9. Paice JA, Penn RD, Shott S. Intraspinal Morphine for Chronic Pain: A Retrospective, Multicenter Study. J Pain Symptom Manage 1996; 11(2): 71-80.
  10. Lamer TJ. Treatment of Cancer-Related Pain: When Orally Administered Medications Fail. Mayo Clinic Proc 1994; 69:473-480.
  11. 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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