A prospective study of long-term intrathecal morphine in the management of chronic nonmalignant pain

Neurosurgery. 1999 Feb;44(2):289-300; discussion 300-1. doi: 10.1097/00006123-199902000-00026.


Objective: To examine in a prospective manner the long-term safety and efficacy of chronic intrathecal morphine in patients with severe, nonmalignant pain refractory to less invasive modalities.

Methods: Forty patients with severe, chronic nonmalignant pain poorly managed by systemic medications were identified as candidates for intraspinal trial of morphine. Thirty participants reported successful pain relief during trial and were implanted with an intraspinal delivery system. Standardized measures of pain and functional status were assessed before treatment was begun and at defined intervals during the subsequent 24 months. Intrathecal opioid use and pharmacological and device-related complications were also monitored.

Results: The participants had a mean age of 58 +/- 13 years and a mean pain duration of 8 +/- 9 years. Fifty-three percent of the study participants were women. Pain type was characterized as mixed neuropathic-nociceptive (15 of 30 patients, 50%), peripheral neuropathic (10 of 30 patients, 33%), deafferentation (4 of 30 patients, 13%), or nociceptive (1 of 30 patients, 3%). Forty-seven percent of the patients were diagnosed with failed back surgery syndrome. Significant improvement over baseline levels of visual analog scale pain was measured at each follow-up examination after implant. Overall, 50% (11 of 22 patients) of the population reported at least a 25% reduction in visual analog scale pain after 24 months of treatment. In addition, the McGill Pain Questionnaire, visual analog scale measures of functional improvement and pain coping, and several subscales of the Chronic Illness Problem Inventory showed improvement throughout the follow-up period. Pharmacological side effects were managed medically by morphine dose reduction, addition of bupivacaine, or replacement of morphine with hydromorphone. Device-related complications requiring repeat operations were experienced by 20% of the patients.

Conclusion: Continuous intrathecal morphine can be a safe, effective therapy for the management of severe, nonmalignant pain among a carefully selected patient population and can result in long-term improvement in several areas of daily function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Back / surgery
  • Chronic Disease
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Spinal
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / administration & dosage*
  • Morphine / adverse effects
  • Morphine / therapeutic use
  • Nociceptors / physiology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Intractable / drug therapy*
  • Pain, Intractable / etiology
  • Pain, Intractable / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / complications
  • Prospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Failure


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Morphine