Nearly 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain. Some 16 million adults (that’s 8 percent of all U.S. adults) experience persistent or chronic back pain, and it limits certain daily activities.
That’s a lot of pain out there. At Coastal Spine, our board-certified pain management doctors can help by using radiofrequency energy to quiet those problematic nerves. It’s called radiofrequency ablation.
What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation uses an electric current to heat up a small area of nerve tissue to stop if from sending pain signals to the brain. This can provide lasting relief from chronic back and neck pain.
Who would be right for radiofrequency ablation?
These treatments at our four Coastal Spine locations are effective for patients with chronic neck or back pain caused by osteoarthritis in their spine. Osteoarthritis (colloquially known as “wear and tear” arthritis) affects the two joints in the spine, the facet joints and the sacroiliac joints. Facet joints are the tiny joints at the back of each vertebra. Sacroiliac joints are located at the bottom of the spine, as the spine enters the pelvis. Pressure from long-term degeneration of the spinal discs, can lead to compression of the space between the vertebrae, and this leads to nerve pain. Before RF ablation would be done, conservative treatments are explored.
RF ablation is a safe procedure with few associated side effects, but it isn’t right for everyone. Patients with active infections or bleeding disorders cannot have RF ablation.
How is RF ablation done?
These procedures generally take between 30 and 90 minutes. The first step is to relax you with IV sedation. Then Dr. Patel or Dr. Jarmain numbs the area where the procedure will be done with local anesthetic. You remain awake, so you can provide feedback.
These are the steps of the procedure:
- A thin needle is inserted into the area where you feel pain. X-rays provide accuracy to the affected nerve.
- A microelectrode is inserted through the needle.
- A small radiofrequency current is sent through the microelectrode to the area of the problematic nerves. If the location is successful, you’ll feel a tingling sensation and you may have a muscle twitch in your neck or back, depending on the nerve location.
- Once assured of the correct placement, Dr. Patel or Dr. Jarmain sends a series of RF currents through the needle to the nerve. This creates a lesion on the nerve, which disrupts pain signals sent by the nerve to the brain.
How successful is RF ablation?
Most patients have at least some degree of pain relief after RF ablation. This can vary by the patient and by the location of the problematic nerves. Relief will usually last for from 6-12 months, but it can last longer for some patients. Research indicates that RF ablation is 70 to 80 percent successful with only one treatment. If necessary, the treatment can be repeated.