Radiofrequency ablation heats up a small area of a nerve to stop the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It provides pain relief for people suffering from chronic pain in the lower back, neck, and joints, and is often used to relieve arthritis pain.
Radiofrequency ablation therapy is minimally invasive and is done as an outpatient procedure. We perform it right in our office using light sedation and local anesthetic.
Radiofrequency ablation is not a permanent solution to pain. It also does not treat the cause of the pain, but rather the debilitating side effects from it. This makes RF ablation an excellent choice for many people with chronic pain.
It may be ideal for those who:
- Have pain that has not responded to other treatments
- Have pain that has not resolved for six months or longer
- Want to avoid the invasiveness and risks of surgery (where possible)
- Have responded well to nerve block treatments
How Radiofrequency Ablation Works
Radiofrequency ablation works by passing electrical currents, in the form of radiofrequency waves, between electrodes in the needle and grounding pads. The pads are placed on either the back or thighs.
Grounding pads protect the body from being injured by the electricity. These electric currents create heat around the needle’s electrode. When directed into the nerve, they heat it and destroy the pain signal so the patient no longer feels pain. RF results fade over time, and this procedure may need to be repeated to maintain relief.
Conditions Successfully Treated by Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation is most commonly used in patients experiencing chronic pain either from an injury or from a chronic condition such as arthritis. Radiofrequency ablation interrupts nerve signals that terminate in the facet joints in the spine. Once pain signals are interrupted, they are stopped in their tracks and can no longer be perceived by the brain.
Facet Joint Syndrome and Sacroiliac Joint Conditions
Radiofrequency ablation works well in treating facet joint syndrome and conditions of the sacroiliac joint as the procedure stops the pain signal from reaching the brain.
Facet joint syndrome: Facet joint syndrome will most often affect the lumbar spine, but the cervical (neck) and thoracic spinal regions may also be affected.
The lower back and neck are the most common places where facet joint syndrome occurs. It can also develop in the thoracic (mid back) area, but this is less common. Pain symptoms can vary depending on which region of the spine is affected.
Symptoms of the Cervical Facet Joint Syndrome
- Pain in the neck and shoulder
- Usually restricts range of motion in these areas
- It may also result in headaches
Symptoms of Thoracic Facet Joint Syndrome
- Pain in the mid-back area
- Restricted range of motion throughout the region of the mid-spine
Symptoms of Lumbar Facet Joint Syndrome
- Low back pain
- Buttock and/or thigh pain
- Stiffness and difficulty standing upright
- Difficulty getting out of a chair
- Pain when initiating motion
- Walking with a hunched-over posture
Sacroiliac joint condition: The sacroiliac joint connects the hip bones to the sacrum, the triangular bone between the lower lumbar spine and the tailbone. The primary function of the sacroiliac joint is to act as a shock absorber between the upper body, pelvis, and legs.
Symptoms Experienced with Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction include:
- Lower back pain, typically felt only on one side
- Pain that spreads to the hips, buttocks and/or groin
- Sharp, stabbing pain in the buttocks and/or backs of thighs that may also bring about a hot sensation
- Stiffness and reduced range of motion in the lower back, hips, pelvis, and groin which interfere with walking upstairs or bending at the waist
- Worsened pain when putting pressure on the sacroiliac joint, such as stair climbing, running, jogging and lying on one side
- Instability in the pelvis and/or lower back causing the pelvis to feel like it may buckle under or give way when standing, walking, or moving from a standing to sitting position
Goals of Radiofrequency Ablation in Treating Facet Joint Syndrome and Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
- Reduce neck or back pain for longer periods of time, usually more than six months
- Improve neck and back function for more range of motion, which may allow you to continue with your physical therapy program
- Reduce intake of pain medications
- Avoid or delay surgery, if possible
Radiofrequency Ablation in the Treatment of Arthritis Pain
The radiofrequency ablation procedure does not treat an arthritic joint itself, but rather the experience of the pain you feel. This procedure is effective in numbing the targeted joint, which brings pain relief. Results last for around six months, or until the nerves start to grow back.
Types of Arthritis Best Treated by Radiofrequency Ablation
This procedure is successful when used to relieve pain in large joints (hips and knees) and small joints of the spine (vertebrae). It can also treat pain from inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
History of Radiofrequency Ablation
A German surgeon, Martine Kirschner, first used radiofrequency ablation 90 years ago while experimenting with treating trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition affecting the nerve responsible for facial sensation.
Thirty years later, the first radiofrequency ablation machine came on to the market, thanks to the creative work of Cosman and Aronow. Their equipment is essentially a radiofrequency generator that produces electrical currents in the range of radiofrequency waves. This is the same technology used today.
How Radiofrequency Ablation is Done
This procedure is done on an outpatient basis, which means you can go home the same day. There is no need for hospitalization as it is a safe, non-surgical procedure.
Prior to the procedure, your doctor will review your medical history and previous x-rays or other imaging results to plan the best location for ablation.
During the procedure:
- You will lie down on a comfortable table in a room with access to fluoroscopy.
- Contrast dye will be used to see the needle using a fluoroscopy (X-ray) machine.
- Fluoroscopy allows your doctor to watch the needle in real-time to ensure proper placement.
- Once the needle is inserted, you will be given a numbing medication.
- A radiofrequency current is passed through the thin, hollow needle creating a small, precise burn.
- The current destroys the part of the nerve that is transmitting the pain signal.
- The burn takes about 90 seconds at each site.
- Multiple nerves can be burned during your procedure to provide maximum relief.
What to Expect Post-Treatment
You will be able to get up and walk around immediately following the procedure. We will monitor you for a short time and then discharge you. Because light sedation is used, you must have a driver take you home.
You may experience pain from the procedure for up to two weeks. This pain is usually due to residual effects of the nerve ablation or from muscle spasm. Most patients are back to work in about 24 to 72 hours after their procedure. Pain relief is not typically experienced after ten days, but this varies. Some people feel immediate relief, but for others it can take up to three weeks.
You can expect pain relief to last for up to two years. It is possible for the nerve to regrow through the burned lesion created by the radiofrequency ablation. If this happens, it usually occurs six to twelve months afterward. Radiofrequency ablation is successful in 70%-80% of patients. The procedure can be repeated as needed.
- Localized numbness
- Temporary increase in nerve pain
- Neuritis – inflammation of the nerve
- Neuroma – “pinched nerve”
- Allergic reaction to medication used during the procedure
- Absence of pain relief (occurs in fewer than 30% of patients)
- Few complications
- Low morbidity rate
- Greater range of motion
- Short recovery time
- Improved quality of life
- Significant pain relief compared to surgery
- Long-lasting pain relief for most people
Radiofrequency Ablation in Torrance, Los Angeles – Pacific Pain & Wellness Group
If you are living with chronic pain, you know how much it can negatively affect your quality of life. You don’t have to suffer for one more day. Our dedicated, experienced team of chronic pain management specialists has a variety of innovative treatment solutions that can help.
At Pacific Pain & Wellness Group, we care about you as much as you do. Our goal is to help you feel better so you can live better. Call us today at (310) 437-7399.