Everyone feels pain. Pain occurs when something hurts, causing an uncomfortable or unpleasant feeling. When you cut your finger while chopping onions or when you pull a muscle, you feel pain and that’s normal. It’s your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. With time and medication, the injury will eventually heal and the pain will stop. However, chronic pain is somehow different.
Chronic pain is a persistent pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment. Your body keeps hurting even after weeks, months or even years after the injury. Chronic pain develops right after the nerve is damaged. The nerve damage makes the pain more intense and long-lasting. It is important to note, however, that some people suffer chronic pain even when there is no past injury or apparent body damage.
There are several treatments available to treat chronic pain. One of the newest pain control techniques that can help you with your chronic pain is radiofrequency ablation. How can this procedure help you?
What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?
According to the National Center Biotechnology for Information, radiofrequency ablation is a procedure using heat to interrupt pain signals in spinal nerves that are used to reduce pain. It uses an electric current to heat up a small area of nerve tissue to stop it from sending pain signals.
Radiofrequency Ablation typically targets pain from the facet joints, which can largely contribute to chronic pain in the neck or lower back, and sacroiliac joints, which can contribute to chronic low back pain. This treatment can provide lasting relief for people with chronic pain, especially in areas such as the lower back, neck and arthritic joints.
Facet joints are pairs of small joints located at each vertebral level of the spine. Each facet joint is connected to two medial branch nerves that carry signals, including pain signals. On the other hand, the sacroiliac joints are located in the lower part of the spine, which is also connected to nerves that carry signals to other parts of the body.
What are the Benefits of Radiofrequency Ablation?
There isn’t a cure for chronic pain, but the condition can be managed successfully. As mentioned earlier, there are several ways to treat chronic pain. You can take medications or have medical procedures. But you can also choose radiofrequency ablation, which is minimally invasive compared to other treatments for chronic pain. Here are some of its benefits:
- Avoid surgery
- Enjoy immediate pain relief
- Has little to no recovery time
- Decrease need for pain medication
- Improved body functioning
Is Radiofrequency Ablation Painful?
Radiofrequency is not painful. The patient will be given an anesthetic on a small area of skin around the spine to numb the area. The patient will be feeling some tingling and buzzing depending on how the ablation has been done.
What Happens During the Treatment?
Radiofrequency Ablation is usually performed in an outpatient special procedure suite that has access to fluoroscopy. Before your scheduled surgery, your doctor will give you instructions regarding the procedure. It is important that you have someone to drive you to and from the outpatient center on the day of the procedure.
Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure:
- You will be given an intravenous medication so that your body can relax.
- Your doctor will ask you to lie on your stomach and the doctor will numb a small area of skin around your spine with an anesthetic.
- The doctor will then insert a thin needle into the area where you feel pain. Your physician will then use X-ray guidance to direct a special radiofrequency needle alongside the targeted nerves.
- To confirm the right position, a small amount of electrical current is passed through a probe placed in the needle to the targeted nerve. You might feel a tingling sensation. This will help your doctor identify the right area for the treatment.
- Once the right position is confirmed, then you are given more local anesthetic. Then a radiofrequency current is passed through the hollow needle to create a small and precise burn. The current destroys the portion of the nerve that transmits pain and disrupts the pain-producing signal.
- The procedure may take one to two hours, depending on the treatment site and the number of treatments performed.
The side effects of radio ablation in the Facet and Sacroiliac Joints may include burning and/or hypersensitivity over the injection site and numbness and/or tingling over the injection site.
What to Expect After Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is a relatively safe procedure with minimal risk of complications.
After the procedure, you may feel soreness in the area where the treatment was performed. The soreness may last for a few days. Although the effectiveness of the procedure varies from patient to patient, the relief can last from 6 months to 12 months.
What if Radiofrequency Ablation Doesn’t Work?
Radiofrequency is not effective for everyone. However, there are other treatments that may help with chronic pain such as epidural steroid injection, facet joint injection, celiac plexus block, and stellate ganglion block. It’s better if you talk to your doctor about these different procedures and discuss which is the best treatment for you.
Radiofrequency ablation may be the right treatment for you if you have chronic pain and don’t respond to medications or other treatments. If you’re thinking about getting a radiofrequency ablation, Dr. Ronak Patel is a pain management specialist in New Jersey. You can call him at (609) 269 4451 to schedule an appointment with him.