What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is the process of using heat generated by radio waves to eliminate a targeted nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain and is usually performed in the neck and back regions of the body. This treatment is beneficial when chronic pain has not improved with more conservative approaches such as physiotherapy or medications, and surgery is not an option. If you have had at least two successful medial branch block treatments, then radiofrequency ablation may be an appropriate procedure to provide long-term pain relief.
Radiofrequency ablation is performed through the insertion of needles that deliver radio waves and heat, to the affected area. The interventional radiologist utilizes fluoroscopy to ensure the needles are positioned properly. During this procedure, the radio waves destroy the nerve fibres that deliver the pain signals to your brain with the intent of providing long-lasting chronic pain relief.
Benefits of radiofrequency ablation take shape in the form of significantly reduced pain levels, a lower reliance on pain medications, surgery avoidance, and improved function in day-to-day activity.
Frequently asked questions:
Radiofrequency ablation is best utilized when chronic pain has appeared in the neck, the back, or in arthritic joints.
Radiofrequency ablation may be an appropriate procedure for patients that have already had at least two successful medial branch block treatments. Meaning, the patients’ source of pain has been attributed to a certain facet joint(s). Radiofrequency ablation may also be an appropriate option for patients unable to have surgery.
Prior to your procedure, the interventional radiologist performing your procedure will review any previous medical records to ensure that you are a candidate, as well as reviewing previous medial branch block treatments already completed.
Your doctor will also review any medications you are currently taking to ensure you are an appropriate candidate for this procedure. Patients taking aspirin or blood thinners may need to discontinue prior to your procedure. It is important for patients to ask any questions they may have prior to their procedure. Please consult with your doctor prior to treatment. If the patient has any questions, they are answered at this time.
Once the patient is in a gown and on the examination table, they are given a local anesthetic. While on your stomach, small needles are placed along the targeted nerves aided with the use of fluoroscopy and the targeted tissues are then treated.
Following your radiofrequency ablation procedure, most patients are able to walk immediately and are usually able to leave shortly after the procedure following an observation period. It is important that patients arrange transportation to and from their radiofrequency ablation procedure as you are unable to drive.
Post treatment, patients may experience pain for up to two weeks. Patients may return to daily activity in one to two days. It is important a follow-up appointment is scheduled with your interventional radiologist post-treatment.
Patients receiving radiofrequency ablation treatment typically experience pain relief between one to two weeks after the procedure. Patients can expect to have significantly reduced pain levels, a reduced reliance in pain medications, and improved lifestyle post-procedure.
Around 70-80% patients can experience pain relief for more than two years following radiofrequency ablation treatment. In some cases, the nerve may regrow through the lesion created from your procedure. In these instances, radiofrequency ablation treatment may be repeated.
Radiofrequency ablation carries minor risks including increased nerve sensitivity immediately following treatment, infection from the procedure, and insufficient levels of pain relief. In the case of insufficient pain relief, your doctor may wish to visit other pain management solutions or repeat radiofrequency ablation treatment.