Chronic pain isn’t any fun, and it can keep you from enjoying life. Our team at Coastal Spine treats chronic pain with radiofrequency energy in a procedure known as radiofrequency ablation at our five locations. This procedure may be used to alleviate existing pain before we can begin other treatments such as physical therapy, or it can be the targeted treatment in itself.
When would I need RF ablation?
When your chronic neck or back pain is due to arthritis in your spine, radiofrequency ablation could be a good option. The goal of RF ablation is to eliminate or reduce the pain signals that are coming from where a spinal nerve root is being compressed where it leaves the spinal column. This is often due to degeneration of the facet joints at the back of the vertebrae, or in the sacroiliac joints at the bottom of the spine where it enters the pelvis.
How is radiofrequency ablation done?
Patients having RF ablation receive IV sedation, along with local anesthetic in the area being treated. Patients need to be awake during the procedure to provide feedback to our doctors.
Once the area is numb, the radiofrequency needle is inserted into the correct area, alongside the inflamed nerves. Your Coastal Spine surgeon uses x-ray guidance to find the exact location. To test placement, a mild electrical current is passed through the needle. If the needle is in the right location, the patient will feel a brief tingling sensation and there may be a muscle twitch in the neck or back.
Now that the target nerves are located, local anesthesia is administered to them to minimize any pain during the ablation.
We then pass the radiofrequency energy through the needle, creating a lesion on the nerve. This lesion disrupts the pain signals sent to the brain. This process is repeated for additional nerves as needed.
Recovery and pain relief
You will have soreness in the treatment area. Applying ice will help. There isn’t any absolute restriction on activity, but patients will want to avoid pain-causing activities. Rest is important. Most patients experience full pain relief two to three weeks after their ablation.
This relief should last from six months to one year. The nerves regenerate over time in some cases and the pain can return. But in other cases, the pain relief can last for years or never return.