Orthopedist examining patients back

Treatment Spotlight: Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation

Persistent pain in the back, neck, or joints is frustrating at best. At worst, it can interfere with your daily routine, making everyday tasks like standing, sitting, bending, and walking painful and exhausting. If you’ve tried home remedies and non-invasive treatments, but they’ve done little to alleviate your discomfort, radiofrequency nerve ablation could be right for you. Here’s everything you need to know before scheduling a consultation.

What Is Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation?

Also called radiofrequency neurotomy, radiofrequency nerve ablation (RFA) is a technique typically performed by pain management specialists with the goal of addressing chronic pain in the back, neck, hip, or knee. RFA is widely recommended by doctors for pain that:

  • Is localized to the back, neck, hip or knee and does not radiate
  • Intensifies while lifting or twisting
  • Feels better while lying down
  • Occurs on one or both sides of the back

In general, RFA helps patients with persistent pain caused by the degeneration of joints, usually from arthritis.

How Does RFA Work?

RFA uses heat generated by radio waves to disrupt the pain signals in the spinal nerves. Typically, the treatment will be performed while the patient is awake but mildly sedated, and will involve the following steps:

  • The injection area is numbed to minimize discomfort when the needle is inserted.
  • Under x-ray guidance, the doctor inserts a needle to the appropriate nerve branch. 
  • After the needle has been placed, an active electrode is inserted through the needle to emit a controlled electrical current. This will stimulate the nerve and may briefly create some discomfort, but allows the physician to confirm that they’ve targeted the proper treatment area.
  • Upon confirming the target nerve, the physician will use an ablation method (pulsed, water-cooled, or traditional radiofrequency) to create a heat lesion, which prevents the nerve from sending pain signals to the brain. If needed, the process will be repeated on other nerves.

The process takes 30 minutes, and patients can typically return home the same day. Common side effects include temporary discomfort at the injection site and numbness of the skin.

Most patients experience relief within one to three weeks after the treatment. During recovery, patients should allow their pain levels to guide their activities. Physical therapy may be advised to help patients regain strength and mobility if their pain has limited their activity range for some time.

Who’s a Good Candidate for Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation?

Although RFA isn’t considered a permanent fix for back or neck pain, it can provide lasting relief for anyone who wants to avoid or delay full back surgery but has had little success with other treatment options, such as physical therapy or lifestyle adjustments. It may be right for you if you’re experiencing chronic back or neck pain, or pain in the sacroiliac joint near the base of the spine and hip bones. Some patients experience pain relief that lasts years, and the treatment is considered a safe, well-tolerated treatment with few complications. Most people find that pain levels are much improved after the treatment.

If previous attempts to alleviate your back pain have done little to bring relief, turn to Alliance Spine & Pain. We understand the frustration of ongoing discomfort and offer state-of-the-art treatments delivered by experienced pain management specialists to help you feel like yourself again. To schedule an appointment, call (770) 929-9033 or reach out to us online.