Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure using radio waves or electric current to generate sufficient heat to interrupt nerve conduction. The nerves are generally blocked for 6-9 months, but may last as short as 3 months or as long at 18 months or longer.
This procedure is generally offered to patients with neck or back pain from facet joint problems like arthritis or injury. For these patients radiofrequency ablation is used to interrupt nerves that go directly to the individual facet joints. It is also used in patients with RSD involving arms or legs to interrupt the sympathetic nerve supply to the involved arm or leg. Radiofrequency ablation can also be used to help patients with unusual conditions, including pain from degenerative disks, occipital neuralgia and certain types of abdominal pain. Typically patients who undergo radiofrequency ablation have tried other, more conservative, treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, chiropractic or physical therapy.
Radiofrequency ablation interrupts the conduction of pain signals, reducing pain, and other related symptoms. Approximately 70 percent of patients will get a good block of the intended nerve. Depending upon the areas to be treated, the procedure can take from twenty minutes to an hour.
Because there is some pain involved, we numb the skin and deeper tissues with a local anesthetic using a very thin needle before inserting the introducer needle or needles. The procedure is done under local anesthesia and most patients also receive intravenous sedation, which makes the procedure easier to tolerate.
If successful, the effects of the radiofrequency ablation can last from 3-18 months, with a typical range of 6-9 months. If the first procedure does not completely relieve your symptoms, you may be recommended to have a repeat or touch-up procedure after the first two to three weeks. Because these are not permanent procedures, they may need to be repeated when the effect wears off.