Benefits and Risks – Drug Pumps

For many people, drug delivery therapy has increased comfort and the relief of severe chronic pain so they can rejoin their lives. Some people have been able to reduce or even eliminate oral/systemic pain medications. Drug delivery therapy may not take away all of your pain, but it may allow you to do things you haven’t done in a long time, like enjoy a movie from start to finish, keep pace with a friend on a walk, or spend more leisurely time away from home.


Drug delivery therapy offers a number of potential benefits, including:

  • Significant reduction in pain – 50% or greater reduction in pain1-3
  • Improved ability to function and participate in activities of daily living2,3
  • Lower medication doses – Compared with oral medications, which may result in reduced side effects4-9
  • Less oral pain medications2,3
  • Proven safe and effective when used as directed
  • Reversible – Therapy can be turned off by your doctor, or if desired, it can be surgically removed

In addition, this treatment: 

  • Can be adjusted to dispense medication according to your activity level and need
  • Lets you try the therapy for a short period of time before you receive a permanent implant


The implanted pump and catheter are surgically placed under the skin. Surgical complications are possible and include infection, spinal fluid leak, and headache. You should not undergo the implant procedure if you have an active infection at the time scheduled for implant.

Once the infusion system is implanted, device complications may occur which may require surgery to resolve. Drug overdose or underdose can result because of these complications and have serious and even life-threatening adverse effects. Possible complications include the catheter or pump moving within the body or wearing through the skin. The catheter could leak, tear, kink, or become disconnected. The pump could stop because the battery has run out or because of failure of another part of the infusion system. Additionally, inflammatory masses have been reported at the tip of the catheter which may lead to complications, including paralysis.

See Important safety information for more details. Also, please discuss the benefits and risks of this therapy with your doctor.


  1. Doleys DM, Brown JL, Ness T. Multidimensional outcomes analysis of intrathecal, oral opioid and behavioral 8. functional restoration therapy for failed back surgery syndrome: a retrospective study with 4 years’ follow-up. Neuromodulation. 2006;9:270–283.
  2. Deer T, Chapple I, Classen A, et al. Intrathecal drug delivery for treatment of chronic low back pain: report from the 9. National Outcomes Registry for Low Back Pain. Pain Med. 2004;5:6–13.
  3. Roberts LJ, Finch PM, Goucke CR, Price LM. Outcome of intrathecal opioids in chronic non-cancer pain. 10. Eur J Pain. 2001;5:353–361.
  4. Brogan SE. Intrathecal therapy for the management of cancer pain. 1. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2006;10:254–259.
  5. Gerber HR. Intrathecal morphine for chronic benign pain. 2. Best Pract Res Clin Anaesthesiol. 2003;17:429–442.
  6. Nance P, Meythaler J. Intrathecal drug therapy. 3. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 1999;10:385–401, viii–ix.
  7. Ruan X. Drug-related side effects of long-term intrathecal morphine therapy. 4. Pain Physician. 2007;10:357–366.
  8. Smith TJ, Swainey C, Coyne PJ. Pain management, including intrathecal pumps. 5. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2005;9:243–248.
  9. Winkelmüller M, Winkelmüller W. Long-term effects of continuous intrathecal opioid treatment of chronic pain 6. of nonmalignant etiology. J Neurosurg. 1996;85:458–467.

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: 20 Feb 2013

Section Navigation

Additional information

Take Charge

Get Ongoing Support

Considering a pain therapy?

Receiving a pain therapy?


Contact Us

Medtronic Patient Services
work (800) 510-6735
Tame the Pain Information Line
work (888) 430-PAIN (7246)