Nothing is more stressful than days and nights spent with chronic neck, knee, back, or spinal nerve pain. All those sleepless nights, tearful moaning, and being unable to work at moments are the worst parts of having chronic pain. Radiofrequency ablation can be a game-changer in terms of coping with pain. It can help relieve chronic pain, giving you life again and eliminating the need to take that hoard of pain medications or reducing the need for medication or other treatments.
What is RFA?
RFA – Radiofrequency Ablation, also named rhizotomy, is a procedure that uses electric current sourced from radiofrequency waves to destroy specific nerve cells by heat. It's much helpful in comforting chronic pain. The basic aim is to block or reduce pain signals reaching the brain. It is a much helpful treatment for delaying surgeries and improving functions.
It is commonly used to treat long-term and persistent pain conditions like spine arthritis, peripheral nerve pain, facet joint inflammation, sacroiliac joint inflammation, and neck, knee, and back pain. This treatment takes no or minimal time for recovery; it's a source of immediate pain relief.
History of Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency Ablation has been used for 18 years to treat cardiac arrhythmias and nerve-related chronic pain. Nikolai Bogduk developed this incredible pain comforting procedure to relieve chronic pain arising mainly from the facet joints in the lower back (lumbar). Radiofrequency waves target identified nerves around the facet joints; lumbar medical branches of the dorsal ramus of the spinal nerves. The intense heat affects the nerves, destroying their ability to send pain signals to the brain via motor neurons.
How to know if you are eligible for Radiofrequency Ablation or not? Some of the common pain conditions that can be managed well with the use of this procedure.
- Chronic pain is caused by spondylosis and sacroiliac (SI) joint pain
- Neck, back, knee, and peripheral nerve pain
- Heart rhythm problems
- Cancer pain
- Facial pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia
Some of the contraindications with this procedure include pregnancy and when suffering from any infection or have bleeding disorder or condition.
What’s the Procedure of RFA?
When performing RFA, the patients are kept conscious. You will lay on the procedure table on your stomach. Sedation was not used or mildly used.
- The area is cleaned to eliminate the risk of infection. The physician then numbs a smaller area in the region of the RFS injection site by injecting a numbing medicine.
- Then, the physician used fluoroscopy to direct the Radiofrequency Ablation needle toward the nerve(s).
- Some of the nerves are targeted when performing RFA, and these are:
Medial Branch Nerves: These nerves are responsible for transmitting pain signals from the facet joints. Each facial joint is then connected to 2 medial branch nerves that transfer pain signals from the spinal cord toward the brain.
Lateral branch Nerves: The lateral ones transmit pain signals from the sacroiliac joint to the brain. The sacroiliac joint is found between the sacrum and the ilium.
- Once the needle tip is placed on the accurate nerve, an active electrode is introduced through the needle, and the electric current is passed carefully in small amounts. The targeted nerve is precisely focused on avoiding affecting the nerves around.
- Once the target nerve is found, physicians use any of the preferred methods of Radiofrequency Ablation to create a heat lesion on the nerve. The physician may repeat the process to target other additional nerves if needed.
Most people get instant pain relief after undergoing the Radiofrequency Ablation procedure. However, the recovery timing varies depending on the cause and location of the pain. It can be immediate relief for some; others get rid of intense pain within ten days, or for some, it may take as long as three weeks to show recovery effects.
When it comes to how long it continues relieving pain, it depends entirely on the case details. For some people, it lasts 3 to 12 months; for some, it lasts a few years. There are some cases in which pain relief is limited because the treated nerve begins to grow again.
Are There Any Side Effects of RFA?
Though RFA is a safe treatment, it can impose some common or rare side effects.
Common Side Effects:
- Short-term numbness
- Swelling and bruising on the affected site
- Temporary pain.
Rare Side Effects:
- Infection at the insertion site
- Nerve damage
- Excessive bleeding
How Often to Repeat the Procedure?
Most patients treated with Radiofrequency Ablation get relief, but it's not a permanent solution. It can alleviate pain, but it can't cure the cause of pain. There is always a chance that the growth and regeneration of the destroyed nerves, reversing the effects of the procedure in months and years ahead. It is a procedure that you can repeat in the future without any side effects.