Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a non-surgical, out –patient procedure used to treat pain resulting from arthritis of the Facet Joints. This is done by using radio-frequency energy to heat and burn the area around the medial branch nerve. The burning will disrupt the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain; therefore giving you a feeling of relief.
Most patients will receive a full year of relief; or until the burned nerves regenerate and grow back. Our body naturally heals itself and the nerves will grow back. Once the nerve grows back (1 year later), the procedure is repeated.
Patients who undergo the RFA procedure must have tried and failed prior cortisone injections and must have a Medial Branch Block done to verify candidacy for the procedure.
Medial branch nerves in each facet joint send and carry pain messages to and from the brain. Destroying a few of these nerves can keep certain pain messages from reaching the brain; thus bringing you relief.
How is RFA done?
First, you’ll be given an intravenous (IV) medication to relax you. Then, you will lie on your belly on an x-ray table.
Dr. Anden will numb first your skin before placing any needles.
- Dr. Anden will locate the problem area under x-ray guidance and then insert a thin needle into the area where you feel pain. You will typically have 3-4 needles placed, depending on how many levels are affected.
- There will be some pain while the needles are placed as this is a highly sensitive area.
- One the needles are in place, Dr. Anden will insert the electrode through the needle; and test the placement. You may feel muscle twitching.
- Once placement has been confirmed, she will turn on the RFA machine.
- This will slowly warm up each needle (such as curling iron) sending radiofrequency current through the electrode to heat and burn the affected nerve.
- Dr. Anden will do 4 burns lasting 90 seconds each.
- Once complete, you will be taken back to the waiting area where you will be check on by our nurse. You will be able to return home the same day.
What are the Risks?
Common side effects can include: temporary numbness and temporary increase in pain.
Rare, but more serious complications include: Bleeding, infection and possible nerve damage.
Overall, the RFA Procedure is very safe and has been done safely for many years.
What happens after the RFA Procedure?
You will notice soreness in the neck or back following the procedure for 2-4 weeks; however you may resume your normal activities the following day and can return to work.
Pain medication will be given if necessary. You can experience symptom relief from 6 months to 1 year, but can last longer as well.
The benefit from this procedure will typically occur within 3 weeks and you will follow-up with Dr. Anden 1 month after the procedure.
How to prepare for a Radiofrequency Ablation
- Stop any blood thinner medication prior to the procedure.
- You may eat and drink normal before and after the RFA procedure
- You will need a driver. You will be given a heavy sedative and cannot drive for 24 hours following the procedure
- You will change into a hospital gown, so wear easy clothes to change out of
- The RFA procedure is done under live x-ray guidance, please inform us if your pregnant or planning to become pregnant.