Radiofrequency Ablation

What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that reduces back pain by interrupting the nerve supply from painful facet joints in the neck or back. In many ways, radiofrequency ablation is a very similar technique to many of the nerve blocks that are frequently performed for the treatment of chronic back pain and chronic neck pain. However, instead of injecting a local anesthetic at the site of pain, a special probe is placed at the target site. Radiofrequency waves are used to heat and destroy the target tissue. This eliminates the painful impulses coming to the spine and thereby decreases pain for an extended period of time.

How is radiofrequency ablation done?

The procedure is performed in an outpatient setting. The treatment is done with local anesthesia along with IV sedation when needed. The procedure is done under sterile conditions with the patient lying on the stomach. The skin on the back or neck is cleaned with antiseptic solution and then the procedure is carried out. The skin is numbed with a local anesthetic. 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 is injected. Then the tissues surrounding the special electrically active needle tip are then heated when electric current is passed through it. This effectively numbs or stuns the nerves semi-permanently. Once done, the needles are removed and a Band-Aid is applied. The procedure generally takes about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the areas to be treated.

How effective is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation disrupts nerve conduction, specifically interrupting the conduction of pain signals. In turn, this may reduce pain, and other related symptoms. Approximately 70 percent of patients will get a good block of the intended nerve. This should help relieve the pain controlled by the blocked nerve. Sometimes after a nerve is blocked, it becomes clear that there is pain from the other areas as well. Radiofrequency therapy averages three to six months’ relief.

What are the risks and side effects of radiofrequency ablation?

As with any medical procedure, there are risks and potential complications. In general, the risks are low and complications are rare. Potential complications that may occur include: bleeding, infection, worsening of pain symptoms, bruising or discomfort at the point of injection, electrical burn, and rarely motor nerve damage.

Who should not have a radiofrequency ablation?

If you are allergic to any of the medications to be injected, if you are on a blood thinning medication, if you have an active infection, if you are pregnant, or if you have poorly controlled diabetes or heart disease, you should speak with the doctor about your specific situation. You may need special instructions, lab testing, or perhaps need to reschedule. Of course, patients who have not responded to trial blocks or diagnostic injections would be unlikely to benefit from radiofrequency ablation.

What should I expect after the radiofrequency ablation?

Initially there will be muscle soreness for up to a week afterward. Ice packs will usually control this discomfort. After the first several days, your pain may be gone or quite less. You should have a ride home, but especially so if you receive any sedation. We advise patients to take it easy for a day or so after the procedure. Otherwise, you can perform any activities that you can reasonably tolerate. You should be able to return to work the next day, but for some patients, soreness at the injection sites may cause you to be off work for several days.

Am I a candidate for radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation may be indicated if you have neck or back pain from facet joint problems like arthritis or injury. Radiofrequency ablation can also be used for some unusual conditions, including pain from degenerative disks, occipital neuralgia and certain types of abdominal pain. You must have responded well to diagnostic or trial injections to be a candidate for radiofrequency ablation. Most patients who undergo radiofrequency ablation have typically tried other, more conservative, treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, chiropractic or physical therapy first. Contact us to find out more!

At PrairieShore™ Pain Center, our goal is to relieve your pain and improve your quality of life. If your primary physician has advised you to see a specialist for your pain, turn to us for help. To schedule your appointment, please contact us here or give us a call at (847) 883-0077.