What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that uses a specialized device to disrupt nerve conduction. RFA causes nerve destruction through heat. A probe is inserted through a needle, and controlled delivery of heat is placed along a painful nerve. Pulsed-RFA does not cause nerve destruction, but instead is used to stun painful nerves.
Who is a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation?
This pain relief technique can be used by those with back pain, neck pain, muscle pain, and multiple other pain syndromes.
Radiofrequency treatment is an extremely safe, well-tolerated method that can be used to treat many causes of chronic pain, such as spinal arthritis, post-traumatic pain, and post-surgery pain. Some neuropathic pain conditions also respond well to RFA, including complex regional pain syndrome, peripheral nerve entrapment syndromes, and other chronic pain conditions.
How radiofrequency ablation works
Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that creates a nerve lesion produced by localized heat. When the lesion is placed over a painful nerve, pain signals are interrupted and pain perception by the brain is decreased.
The procedure is performed in an outpatient setting and is done with local anesthesia along with IV sedation when needed. Before the procedure begins, your physician starts by cleaning the skin over the injection site and injecting a local anesthetic to numb your skin. Another needle is placed through the numb tissue, and the entire procedure is performed using fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance.
When the needle is in the correct location, an electrode is introduced into the center of the needle. Stimulation is initiated first with sensory stimulation and then with motor stimulation. When the correct needle position is verified, local anesthetic and sometimes a steroid medication are injected. The electrode is heated to 50-80°C and kept at that temperature for several minutes. Electro-thermal heat is generated, which allows for destruction of surrounding pain fibers, thereby decreasing your pain.
Pulsed Radiofrequency Technique
This technique is similar to thermo-coagulation RFA, but differs by a lower level of heat produced. This does not destroy the nerve tissue, but instead stuns the nerve. This method is less uncomfortable and in general only a mild pulsating sensation is felt. After a brief recovery period, you are able to go home. You may have some discomfort when the local anesthetic wears off.