Individuals who suffer from chronic back and neck pain, as well as pain resulting from health conditions such as arthritis are prime candidates for the radiofrequency ablation procedure. The procedure helps reduce the effects of pain by heating up a minor area of the nerve tissue, interrupting pain signals emanating from that affected nerve tissue, to the brain. The procedure will not truly eliminate pain but rather, block the pain signals sent to the brain for a certain period of time that can last anywhere from as short as 3 months to as long as 14 months. That will vary on a case-by-case basis. The majority of patients that undergo this procedure, often experience pain relief.
The procedure involves the usage of radiofrequency energy to create a heat lesion that prevents nerves from generating pain signals to the brain. There are two distinct types of radiofrequency ablation that can be performed:
- Medial branch ablation involves performing a heat lesion on the nerves that transmit pain signals from the facet joints.
- Lateral branch ablation involves performing a heat lesion on the nerves that transmit pain signal from the sacroiliac joints.
Both nerve branches do not impact any muscles or sensations felt in the arms and legs, thus diminishing any risk posed by the procedure. The procedure will be done following the completion of a medial or lateral branch nerve block, which is done in order to ascertain the root cause of the pain. It’s almost like a diagnostic procedure done in the run up to the radiofrequency ablation.
Rates of success will vary on a case-by-case basis. Approximately 30-50% of patients that have undergone this procedure have gone on to experience pain relief in the lower back for a period that lasts up to two years. The remaining patients experience pain relief for a time period less in duration.
Radiofrequency ablation will involve sedation of a mild nature as well as anesthetics. The procedure will require the use of fluoroscopy to assist in guidance as with other types of injections done. The patient will be administered an IV cord that provides the sedation and whatever the region for which the procedure will be performed on will be cleansed with alcohol and antiseptic solution (mid-back, lower back, or neck). With the assistance of a fluoroscopy, a radiofrequency needle will be inserted underneath the skin and guided to the nerve emitting the pain signals. The specific nerve(s) will be numbed with anesthetic as the lesion is performed via radio frequency waves, that is designed to heat up the nerve(s), resulting in the blockage of pain signals coming from the affected nerve(s). The procedure may be repeated depending on the number of nerves emitting pain signals.
Radiofrequency ablation may last anywhere from 30-90 minutes and requires no overnight stay as patients can go home following recovery. It is recommended that patients avoid driving and any other sorts of activities that can be deemed strenuous in nature. During the course of the first four days, patients may experience soreness in the area that was treated. Muscles spasms and feelings of irritability may occur as a result of the targeted nerves dying from the heat lesion. This dying process can last between one and two weeks.
Following the conclusion of the procedure, patients may experience the following side effects:
- A combination of superficial burning and hypersensitivity
- Slight numbness of the affected skin area, subsequent to the superficial burning