What is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is used to interrupt nerve conduction on a semi-permanent basis. Following two successful diagnostic nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation may be indicated.
Radiofrequency ablation is performed in the office. Patients are required to check in 30 minutes prior to their scheduled appointment time. Once taken back to the preparation area, a small IV catheter will be placed in your hand or arm. This catheter may be used to administer light sedation for the procedure. When taken to the procedure room, you will be placed on your stomach with a pillow under your hips for lumbar radiofrequency ablation or under your chest for cervical radiofrequency ablation. Blood pressure and oxygen saturation monitors will be applied. The injection sites will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution and draped in a sterile manner. Using a small, thin needle, local anesthetic is injected to numb the skin and deep tissue, which may feel like a stinging and/or burning sensation. Assisted by fluoroscopy (X-ray), the physician is able to identify the facet joints. Because nerves cannot be seen under fluoroscopy, special insulated needles are positioned using the bony landmarks, which indicate where the nerves should be. Once the needles are in place, using a radiofrequency generator, sensory stimulation is performed which may produce a “buzzing” or “tingling” sensation. Next, motor stimulation is performed which may produce a thumping sensation in the muscles. When correct placement is verified, the tissue surrounding the needle tip is heated with an electric current produced by the radiofrequency generator, which “burns” the nerves. Because we are only working with the sensory nerves, you will have full sensation and movement of your extremities. Radiofrequency ablation may provide pain relief anywhere from two months to two years. The procedure will take approximately 45-60 minutes to complete.
You may experience “soreness” of the injection site for 1-3 days, as well as deep muscle “soreness” for 3-4 weeks following your procedure. We advise patients to “take it easy” for the remainder of the day. You may perform activities as tolerated.
Once the procedure is over, you will be taken to a recovery area, where you will be monitored for 15-30 minutes and released to go home. You MUST have someone available to drive you home. Failure to have a driver may result in your procedure being rescheduled. You should be able to return to work the next day.
Radiofrequency ablation is a commonly performed procedure. Because of the low risk and low incidence of any significant problems or side effects, this is felt to be a reasonable procedure to follow when other conservative therapies have failed to produce improvement. Possible side effects may include infection, bleeding, hematoma, pain at the injections site, headache and temporary increase in pain. You may feel lightheaded and/or unsteady; this is usually due to the sedation you were given during the procedure.