Radiofrequency ablation is a pain management technique for chronic pain. An electric current temporarily stops a nerve from sending pain signals to the brain.
It is often effective for chronic pain of the lower back, neck, hip, knee, or joint pain from arthritis. It may be a suitable treatment for chronic pain that hasn’t responded to other, more conservative treatments like physical therapy or pain medication.
The radio waves that produce the current are generated by a medical device called a radiofrequency generator. When attached to an electrode that is placed on a nerve, the radio waves damage part of the nerve so it can’t send pain signals anymore.
Procedure and Recovery
Radiofrequency ablation is done in an office or clinic under mild sedation. Typically, you’ll go home the same day after a short recovery period.
You may be instructed not to eat within six hours of your procedure. Because of the sedation, you will need to bring someone with you to drive you home after the procedure.
- You’ll be given medication through an IV to help you relax.
- You’ll lie on your stomach or back, depending on the location of the nerve to be treated.
- Your doctor will use a topical anesthetic to numb the skin where the needle will be inserted.
- He or she will insert a thin needle into the area being treated, using a fluoroscope (a type of X-ray) to target the precise location.
- A tiny electrode will be inserted through the needle to the nerve site. You should feel a tingling sensation.
- Once in place, the electrode will send a small current to heat the targeted nerve tissue. You will not feel any discomfort from the heat.
After the procedure, you can go home after a short recovery period. You should not drive, exercise, or do any strenuous activities for the first 24 hours. After that, you can return to your normal activities.
Most patients have some pain relief after the procedure that can last for months or even years. The amount of relief depends on the location and cause of the pain.
Radiofrequency ablation is typically a safe and effective procedure that is well tolerated. There are few risks or side effects. Temporary side effects may include:
- Numbness or weakness in your legs
- Discomfort at the injection site
- Swelling or bruising at the injection site
- Infection or bleeding (rare)
- Nerve damage (rare)
Radiofrequency ablation is not an option for people with bleeding problems or active infections.
If you think radiofrequency ablation is right for you, schedule an appointment today!