Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), (also referred to as neurotomy, is used every day to treat people with chronic lower back and neck facet joint pain) is a minimally invasive procedure to treat arthritis pain in the spine. Minimally invasive means it does not require an incision, has a lower risk of infection and a faster recovery. While this procedure is proven to have longer lasting results, it is not usually considered until other treatment therapies have proven ineffective.
In many cases it has been shown to last longer compared to steroid injections, generally around 12 months. Patients can develop permanent pain relief with the facet nerve radiofrequency ablation; however, if the pain returns, it tends not to be as severe, and the procedure can be repeated indefinitely.
How does Radiofrequency Ablation work?
Radiofrequency Ablation works by using radio waves to vibrate the tissue, to create a controlled disruption of the nerve, interrupting the transmission of the patient’s pain. Using x-rays, the doctor places special needle(s) and electrodes (called cannulas) along the pain generating nerves. A small current is applied by a radiofrequency generator and directed into the target area. As the current is delivered, the desired tissue is destroyed preventing the signal from getting to the spine.
What is the radiofrequency ablation procedure like?
The procedure is considered minimally invasive and patients will be able to go home shortly after the treatment. Before the treatment, the patient will be given local anesthetic to alleviate any discomfort during the procedure. Sedation is often provided for patient comfort and would require a driver. Needle placement is checked before every radiofrequency ablation. Safety stimulation is also provided before every radiofrequency ablation as an added precaution. The radiofrequency ablation generally takes between 30 to 90 minutes to complete.
Does radiofrequency ablation hurt?
Sedation is not required but often provided. Local anesthetic is always provided.
How do I find out if I am a candidate?
Radiofrequency Ablation is not a first line therapy for patients. Candidates are given a diagnostic nerve block(s) as required by their insurance company. Diagnostics blocks usually do not provide long term relief.