What is Radio Frequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a common and highly effective treatment for patients experiencing chronic pain. With RFA, a heated needle tip is used to disrupt nerve conduction, which prevents transmission of pain signals and reduces discomfort in a painful area. RFA can be used in a variety of long-term pain syndromes, especially in those that involve back pain and neck pain.
Radiofrequency allows the physician to precisely target an area of pain. This procedure has high efficacy as a pain treatment modality.
Medial branch nerves are small nerve branches that communicate pain caused by the facet joints in the spine to the brain. Medial branch RFA is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that reduces cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), and lumbar (low back) pain by interrupting the nerve supply from painful facet joints.
Multiple RFA injections for medial branch blocks provide long-term pain relief, and the evidence for pain relief with radiofrequency neurotomy of cervical and lumbar medial branch nerves is moderate for short and long-term pain. This procedure can also be utilized for ablation of peripheral nerves, like the genicular nerves for knee pain.
Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Neurotomy/Ablation
During this minimally invasive procedure, the physician uses an electric current to produce heat from radio waves to treat painful facet joints in your neck. This procedure is also called radiofrequency rhizotomy. This procedure may treat pain that does not respond to medications or to physical therapy.
Genicular Nerve Radiofrequency Ablation
Longer-term pain relief may be obtained by the radiofrequency ablation procedure. During this genicular nerve treatment, patients that responded well to the diagnostic nerve block undergo the ablation procedure, usually done under local anesthetic on an outpatient basis.
The needles are once again placed using fluoroscopic (x-ray) or ultrasound guidance for safety and accuracy. A cannula is guided as close as possible to the appropriate nerves, one at a time. Once in place, radiofrequency lesioning (ablation) involves inserting a microelectrode into the cannula so that an electrical current produced by a radio wave can heat up the tip of the needle. The hot tip of the needle then cauterizes a portion of the nerve transmitting pain signals, so it cannot send pain signals to the brain. The process is repeated for each nerve.
Why is radiofrequency ablation done?
- to help stop or reduce long-term chronic pain
- help reduce the need for pain medication
- to keep patients from having to have surgery
Who is a candidate for RFA?
- a person hasn’t received relief from other pain treatments
- has long-term chronic pain
Who is not a candidate for chronic pain?
- if you have a bleeding condition
- any infections
How long does the treatment last?
The pain relief from the genicular nerve ablation procedure can last from six months to one year, or even longer.
What to know before your procedure
Your provider will do a thorough exam and get all of your medical history. He/she will most likely order an x-ray or MRI to further review your anatomy and determine the extent of your injury. This information allows the physician to pinpoint exactly what is causing the pain in your area, and rule out any other causes.
From there your doctor will want to confirm that you’re a candidate for an RFA by performing a standard test. This test involves doing a diagnostic block to confirm the level and source of your pain. If the block gives you significant relief in the area of your pain, the physician may recommend RFA as an action of treatment.
Is the procedure painful?
This procedure is an out-patient procedure and normally done in-office. The doctor will provide local anesthetic to the area being treated to help with any discomfort. Sedation is also offered for any patients that are candidates and request it.
What are the benefits of Radiofrequency Ablation?
- procedure is done in office
- little to no down time
- may prevent you from having surgery
- decreased need to take pain medications
- return to daily activities after a couple of days of rest
- allows better function
If you have been suffering from chronic pain that doesn’t seem to go away. You may want to discuss Radiofrequency Ablation with your doctor to determine if it could be right for you. Your doctor will do a thorough exam and order the right tests to confirm whether or not you may be a candidate for this treatment.
For more questions regarding this treatment, please feel free to reach out to our office. We are here to answer all of your questions.
Here is to good health and less pain,