Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Back Pain


Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure for treating pain. It works by destroying the nerve fibers that transmit the pain signals to the brain. RFA can offer lasting relief for those suffering from chronic pain, particularly the neck, lower back, and arthritic joints.

How RFA is done

Patients need to show successful response to trial injections or diagnostics to be the right candidate for RFA. So you may undergo the procedure if you have recurrent pain and have experienced good relief with a nerve block injection. Usually, your doctor will do the necessary tests to help you establish candidature. You may not be an ideal candidate if you have bleeding problems or active infections.

Once you are cleared for the procedure, your doctor will issue an intravenous medication to calm you down. You’ll then be required to lie on your back or stomach on an x-ray table where you get anesthesia to numb the area of your skin before the procedure. Your doctor will then:

  • Insert a thin needle into the pain area – he/she may use an x-ray to uncover the exact place
  • Place a microelectrode via the needle – he/she will identify the right area by finding out where you feel a tingling sensation
  • Send a small radiofrequency current to heat your nerve tissue

RFA is a safe and effective procedure and an incredible way of treating some forms of pain. It’s generally well tolerated, with rare cases of complications. But like with any other process that involves insertion, patients have a slight risk of bleeding and infection at the site. The main side effect that’s associated with the problem is discomfort – you may experience some bruising and swelling at the treatment site, but it goes away after some days.

Before the procedure

Your doctor will review your medical history and previous imaging examinations to determine the best ablation location. Your initial appointment is the best time to ask as many questions as you’d like about the procedure. You can also inform your doctor about any medications that you are taking. If you are on blood thinning medication or aspirin, your doctor may ask you to stop for a while.

After the treatment

A majority of patients are able to move around immediately after the RFA. It is an outpatient procedure, so you’ll go home the same day – however, you’ll only do this after your doctors monitor you for a short time. Again, you must have someone drive you home.

You may still feel pain for up to two weeks, but this is as a result of the residual effects of the muscle spasm or nerve ablation. Many patients report being able to resume their daily activities or work after a day and three of the procedures. The pain also subsides within ten days – although some patients get immediate relief, while others, up to 21 days later.

Results

Patients who undergo RFA often enjoy about nine months up to two years of pain relief. The procedure is 70 to 80% effective in candidates who have successful nerve blocks.