Benefits vs. Risks of Implantable Pain Pumps


Treatment with an implantable pain pump, or intrathecal pain pump, carries both benefits and risks. Physicians can help individuals (who are considering treatment with an implantable pain pump) determine if the benefits of a pain pump outweigh the potential risks.


Potential benefits of an implantable pain pump include the following:

  • Intrathecal pain pumps can provide pain relief to individuals for whom other pain reduction methods have not been successful. This can improve daily functioning and quality of life.
  • Since medication from an implantable pain pump is delivered directly around the spinal cord, significantly lower doses of medication can provide pain relief as compared to oral administration.
  • Because medication from a pain pump is delivered directly to the spinal fluid (instead of traveling through the digestive system to reach the bloodstream), there tend to be fewer side effects than with other administration methods.
  • Pain medications can be delivered around the clock.


Potential risks of an implantable pain pump include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Surgical complications, such as bleeding, infection, cerebral spinal fluid leaks, or damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots
  • Allergic reactions to the medication or pump materials
  • Medication side effects, such as numbness, weakness or sedation
  • Physical dependence on pain medication
  • Development of an inflammatory mass (granuloma) at the end of the catheter, which could lead to permanent neurologic injury
  • Pump “flipping,” which prevents medication refills
  • Medication refill complications; for example, accidental deposit of medication outside the pump’s medication reservoir, which can lead to overdose
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