The Management of Pain From Collapse of Osteoporotic Vertebrae With Continuous Intrathecal Morphine Infusion


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Maria Rita Saltari, MD, Pain Unit and Palliative Care, S. Maria Misericordia Hospital, via Tre Martiri, 45100 Rovigo, ITALY. Email:


Objectives.  Vertebral fractures are the most common consequences of severe osteoporosis. The chronic pain from collapse of osteoporotic vertebrae affects quality of life (QoL) and autonomy of patients. The management of pain with oral or transdermal opiates can cause severe side-effects. Continuous intrathecal administration of morphine through an implantable pump might represent an alternative therapy to conventional oral or transdermal administration of opioids and has some advantages and disadvantages for pain relief and improvement in QoL when compared to conventional opioid delivery. It is our objective to report our experience using intrathecal delivery of analgesics in a population of patients with refractory pain due to vertebral fractures.

Materials and Methods.  In 24 patients, refractory to conventional delivery of opioids, we used intrathecal analgesic therapy. To test for efficacy and improvement in QoL, we administered the visual analog scale (VAS) for pain and the Quality of Life Questionnaire of the European Foundation for Osteoporosis (QUALEFFO). Before patients were selected for pump implantation, an intraspinal drug delivery trial was performed to monitor side-effects and responses to intrathecal therapy.

Results.  Significant pain relief was obtained in all implanted patients. Using the QUALEFFO, we observed significant improvement of all variables such as QDL (quality of daily life), DW (domestic work), ambulation, and PHS (perception of health status), before and after one year after pump implantation. With intrathecal morphine infusion, none of the 24 patients required additional systemic analgesic medication. The mean morphine dose during the spinal trial was 11.28 mg/day, 7.92 mg/day at pump implantation, and 16.32 mg/day at one-year follow-up.

Conclusions.  Our results show that intrathecal administration of morphine efficiently relieves the symptoms of pain and improves QoL. Continuous intrathecal administration of morphine appears to be an alternative therapy to conventional analgesic drug delivery and has advantages in those patients who have severe side-effects with systemic administration of analgesics.