What is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure used to reduce pain. Pain signals from nerves are decreased when an electric current produced by a radio wave heats and destroys nerve tissue.
RFA can be used to help patients with persistent low-back and neck pain and pain related to the degeneration of joints due to arthritis. The cause and location of the pain can influence the degree of pain relief. Most patients experience pain relief after the procedure, which can last from six to 12 months or longer. We perform two sets of injections before we can determine if radiofrequency ablation will help you. These are considered “diagnostic” and may provide temporary relief that we will ask you about after the injections.
Before Radiofrequency Ablation
To prepare for radiofrequency ablation treatment, follow these instructions:
- Take all of your usual medications.
- You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure.
- You should not drive until later that day.
During the Procedure
A member of the medical team will administer a local anesthetic. Once the local anesthesia has been administered, the doctor will insert a small needle into the painful region. Using X-ray guidance, your doctor will place the needle in the exact target area. A flexible electrode is then inserted through the needle and the radio waves are applied. During the procedure, the doctor will ask questions about the sensations you are experiencing in order to ensure optimal placement of the electrode. A small amount of local anesthetic is then injected and the radio waves “burn” just that nerve by your arthritis. Then a small amount of local anesthetic and steroid is injected to keep the area calm.
- Someone must drive you home.
- Do not drive until later that day.
- You may experience soreness in the area for up to a week.
RFA has proven to be a safe and effective way to treat some forms of pain. There are few associated complications. The main side effect of RFA is some discomfort, including swelling and bruising at the site of the treatment. But, this generally goes away after a few days. There is a slight risk of infection and bleeding at the insertion site. You may experience temporary numbness after the procedure due to the local anesthetic and the anesthetic we place around the nerve root before the RFA. If you are diabetic you may notice an increase in your glucose readings. This is due to the steroid we placed at the RFA site to keep the nerve calm after the procedure. A rare complication would be aggravation of the nerve but numbing it first and putting steroids along the nerve after the procedure reduce this risk. We also ask you questions during the procedure to reduce the risk of damaging any of the other nerves in the area.
©2008 URMC Spine Center