Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), also called rhizotomy or neurotomy, is a novel non-surgical technique which employs radiofrequency waves to produce heat that damages the nerves transmitting pain signals to the brain.
This procedure is performed to treat painful facet joints in the spine that can cause chronic low back and neck pain.
Radiofrequency ablation treatment is only considered after it is confirmed that the cause of the pain is coming from the facet joints. This is confirmed by performing a diagnostic facet joint injection. Facet joint injections relieve pain for a short duration whereas radiofrequency ablation can keep you pain-free for a much longer period. If your pain is relieved from the injection then RFA can be performed for long term relief.
Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive technique and therefore administration of general anesthesia is not required. You will be conscious throughout the procedure while lying on your stomach. Only a small area over your back or neck which requires treatment is cleansed and numbed.
During the procedure, your doctor will direct special radiofrequency needle electrodes close to the affected facet joints in such a manner that the needle tip lies near the medial branch nerves. This is performed under the guidance of a fluoroscope, a special kind of X-ray machine that displays live images on a monitor.
Radiofrequency energy is then used to heat the needle tip so that the nerve gets cauterized and destroyed, subsequently reducing the pain. The entire procedure may last about an hour or two.
You will usually be able to return home an hour after the procedure, but may experience some soreness at the needle sites for a few days. Using a cold pack can help relieve the discomfort.
Risks and Complications
Complications are rare and include:
- Nerve damage