What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally-invasive procedure used to treat chronic neck pain and back pain. The procedure involves the use of electrodes to create heat lesions in target nerves, effectively interrupting the transmission of pain signals from the spine to the brain. The nerves will regenerate eventually, which may cause the pain to return, but this procedure generally provides pain relief for months to a year at a time.
Who is a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation?
Those who are suffering from chronic neck or back pain secondary to issues with the facet joints or discs in the spine may be candidates for RFA. It is recommended that patients first attempt relief from more conservative treatments such as physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications. Those diagnosed with cervical or lumbar spondylosis, also sometimes known as spinal osteoarthritis, are also candidates for RFA.
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 is the procedure done?
Prior to RFA, the physician will have determined the problematic facet joints from the previously administered diagnostic facet block injections. These joints will be marked and visualized under fluoroscopic guidance prior to the procedure. After administering sedation and local anesthesia, the physician will then insert the electrodes near the target nerves and proceed to heat the nerves. RFA is a relatively quick procedure, and is administered on one side of the neck or back at a time. The entire treatment process requires 4 separate procedures, including the two sets of diagnostic facet blocks which must precede the RFA. Though response is variable, radiofrequency ablations are expected to reduce pain in the neck or low back for at least six to twelve months after a complete treatment series.
What are the benefits and risks of this procedure?
The benefits of the procedure include:
- Minimally-invasive: Radiofrequency ablations are minimally invasive, meaning that there is minimal risk of complications.
- Pain-relief: RFAs can help you to get back on your feet and continue your normal activities.
- Quick: RFA is an outpatient procedure takes around 10-15 minutes on average.
Patients may notice some discomfort, local bruising or minor swelling after the procedure, but this should pass in a few days. Any numbness immediately after the procedure is due to the anesthesia and should pass within a few hours.