Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a procedure in pain medicine that uses a specialized device to reduce pain. The Spine & Nerve Centers uses this technique to help patients with back pain, neck pain, arthritis pain and other pain syndromes. RFA uses an electrical current produced by a radio wave to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, with the objective of decreasing pain signals from that area.


A needle is placed through the numb tissue and the entire procedure is performed using fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance. Once the physician has guided the needle to the correct location where the patient is experiencing pain, an electrode is introduced through the needle. RFA causes nerve destruction (also called ablation) through heat; the destruction of surrounding pain fibers thereby decreases the patient’s pain. A similar technique is Pulsed Radiofrequency; it does not cause nerve destruction, but instead is used to stun painful nerves. In general, with Pulsed Radiofrequency, the patient feels only a mild pulsating sensation.

Following a brief recovery period, the patient is able to return home after the procedure. Patients may have some discomfort when the local anesthetic wears off. RFA therapy can provide patients with pain relief that lasts from six to 12 months; in some cases, pain relief can last for years. As with all therapies, the amount of pain relief will vary from person to person.


As with any medical procedure, there are risks and potential complications. Although complications rarely occur, patients need to know that potential complications may include bleeding, infection, worsening of pain symptoms, discomfort at the point of injection, and in rare instances, motor nerve damage. In general, the risks with RFA are low and complications are rare. Check with your physician to see if this procedure is right for you.

Patients should consult with their pain physician before receiving the procedure if they:

  • have an allergy to any anesthetic
  • are on blood-thinning medications
  • have an active infection
  • are pregnant

Check with your physician to see if the procedure is right for you.

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