Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that results in the interruption of the sensory nerve supply to the facet or sacroiliac joints to relieve pain. The facet joints are located in pairs along the back of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine.
The procedure involves placing needles under x-ray guidance near the nerves that supply the joints. Heat is generated by the radiofrequency generator to interrupt the nerve pathways. Patients are expected to pain relief for longer than 6 months, studies have shown pain improvement for a mean duration of 11 months. Complications are rare, but may include infection, pain, swelling and bruising at the injection site, neuritis and nerve injury. If you receive pre-medication, you will require a ride home.
When you arrive, the staff will get a description of your pain and how you are managing daily activities. Medications, allergies and a brief health history will be reviewed. It is important to let the staff know if you have allergies to Betadine or latex, if you are taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin, Plavix, Xarelto, Eliquis, Pradaxa or Lovenox, or if you might be pregnant.
After discussing treatment with your physician and signing a consent form, you will go to the procedure room where you will be helped onto the x-ray table into the best position for visualizing your spine. We will try to make you as comfortable as possible. Your skin will be cleansed with antiseptic and after numbing the skin on your back, the physician will place the needle using X-ray guidance. A positive stimulation testing is performed; a positive testing reproduces your pain without producing other sensory or motor findings in the arms or legs. The entire procedure takes between 20-40 minutes.
You should plan to stay with us for another 20-30 minutes after your procedure. The staff will be available to answer any questions you might have and review instructions and follow-up care.
When you go home:
- Activities: Rest and avoid activities that might aggravate your pain. You can usually return to work the next day and begin exercising in 3 days, but obviously hold off if you experience any discomfort.
- Pain: Ice on the procedure site and taking anti-inflammatory or pain medications will help with any discomfort. Some patients experience muscular pain after the procedure for a few days.
- Follow-up: You may be asked to make an appointment in 4-6 weeks to evaluate your progress Your physician may recommend a physical therapy program to strengthen the muscles of the spine.
You will notice an improvement within a 3-5 weeks lasting anywhere from 6 months to a year or more.