Radiofrequency Ablation

Being both diagnostic and therapeutic, nerve ablations can help provide relief for focal pain issues, or provide diagnosis of chronic pain conditions

Have a Question?

Is Radiofrequency Ablation Right For You?

What is a Nerve Ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), also called radiofrequency neurotomy, uses radio waves to create a current that heats a small area of nerve tissue. The heat destroys that area of the nerve, stopping it from sending pain signals to your brain. RFA can provide lasting relief for people with chronic pain, especially in the lower back, neck and arthritic joints.

Radiofrequency ablation uses heat produced from radio waves to target diseased tissue. When radiofrequency is applied to nerve tissue, it damages nerves, which prevents or stops the pain signal from reaching the brain and results in pain relief.

During a radiofrequency ablation procedure, a small hollow needle is inserted into the targeted nerve that is causing pain. An electrode is inserted into the top of the needle, which sends the radio waves through the needle to the targeted nerve. The heat causes a lesion that prevents the nerve from sending pain signals to your brain. Nearby healthy nerves are not damaged during the procedure.

Radiofrequency ablation is often used to manage pain originating from joints (such as your knee) and oftentimes related to pain from your spine, especially your neck and lower back (lumbar area of your spine).

Within your spine, nerves branch off from your spinal cord and travel to the facet joints and sacroiliac joints.

Facet joints are pairs of small joints between the vertebrae in your spine. These joints give your spine flexibility and allow movement of your back, such as twisting and bending. Two small nerves, called medial branch nerves, are connected to the facet joints and send a signal to your brain that there is pain coming from these joints.

Sacroiliac joints are found near the bottom of your spine, right above your tailbone. Lateral branch nerves that are connected to these joints send pain signals from the spine to your brain.

Using radiofrequency ablation to treat the targeted medial branch nerve in the facet joints or the lateral branch nerve in the sacroiliac joints decreases pain signals from reaching your brain.

Who Is This Procedure For?

See if a Nerve Ablation is Right for Your Pain

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) may be right for you if have:

  • Pain relief following a nerve block injection. This tells your provider that that particular nerve is the source of your pain and is an appropriate target for RFA.
  • Chronic pain that does not respond to other treatment, such as pain medication and physical therapy.

You may not be a candidate for radiofrequency ablation if you:

  • Are pregnant.
  • Have an infection.
  • Have a bleeding problem.
Conditions Treated

Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat:

  • Chronic pain caused by conditions including arthritis of the spine (spondylosis) and sacroiliac (SI) joint pain.
  • Pain in your neck, back and knee.
  • Cancer pain.
  • Facial pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia.
  • Peripheral nerve pain.
  • Heart rhythm problems.
  • Tumors (to kill cells).
Procedure Overview

First, you’ll lie on your stomach on a special X-ray table. Your healthcare provider will use monitors to watch your condition during the procedure. You’ll remain aware so you can answer your provider’s questions during the procedure. Medications can be given during the procedure to relax you but this is optional.

Your doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the area of your skin where a needle will be inserted. Then:

  • A thin needle is inserted into the area where you feel pain.
  • Needle placement is guided by a special kind of real-time continuous X-ray called fluoroscopy.
  • Once the needle has reached the intended site, your doctor will do a test to confirm it’s in the proper position. The test consists of inserting a microelectrode through the hollow needle. Your doctor will ask if you feel a tingling sensation (or discomfort or a muscle twitch). This means the right location has been found for treatment.
  • A local anesthetic is injected through the needle to numb the target area.
  • A radiofrequency current is sent through the needle to heat the identified portion of the nerve.
  • The current destroys that area of the nerve, stopping it from sending pain signals to your brain.
  • More than one nerve can be treated during the procedure (if needed).
What are the Results?

Most people have some pain relief after radiofrequency ablation, but the amount varies by cause of pain and location. Pain relief can be immediate in some people, occur within 10 days in other people or may take up to three weeks in others.

Pain relief can last from six months to 12 months. For some people, the relief lasts a few years. Others may have only limited pain relief.

The treated nerve can regrow. If this happens, it usually happens about six to 12 months after the procedure. Radiofrequency ablation can be repeated if needed.

Talk with your healthcare provider about the success rate of your procedure and the length your pain relief may last. Your provider will give you their best projection based on the specific cause, location and severity of your pain.

Is a Nerve Ablation
Right For You?

If previous injections have only provided you temporary relief, a nerve ablation may be the best next step for you
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