Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that involves using an electric current or radio waves to generate heat in a specific area of your nerve tissue. This usually makes your nerve to stop functioning and sending any pain signals to your brain. It can be one of the most effective ways to deal with your chronic pain. In fact, the process of nerve ablation provides semi-permanent relief for someone with chronic pain, especially in the neck, lower back, and arthritic joints.
Although radiofrequency ablation or simply nerve ablation proves quite beneficial in most cases, the amount of relief you get usually varies a lot and usually depends on the cause of your pain and its location. In most cases, you will experience pain relief for at least six months, but many people don't experience any for several years. It is therefore a good idea to identify the cause of your chronic pain and discuss with your healthcare provider to determine if nerve ablation is a good choice in your case or not.
Which Conditions Can Be Treated with Radio Frequency?
There are a number of conditions that respond quite well to radiofrequency ablation, but it is still important to discuss with your doctor, especially if you're considering spinal ablation. You may be a good candidate for RFA if you're suffering from one of the following spine-related problems:
- Lower back pain
- Long-lasting back pain
- Pain caused mainly by the deterioration of joints in your spine
- Arthritis of the spine
- Chronic, long-lasting neck pain
In addition, you can also opt for spinal ablation if you're experiencing pain after a spinal surgery or you have caused serious damage to your neck after a whiplash. Some doctors have also found RFA to be an effective treatment option for cancer and heart rhythm problems.
What Should Be Done to Prepare for Radiofrequency Ablation?
It is important that you don't drink or eat anything for at least eight hours before taking the injection. Sometimes, your doctor will decide to give you sedation during the procedure. If that is the case, you should have someone with you to drive you home. You should not skip your high blood pressure medication due to the procedure. The same holds true if you're using medication for any kind of heart condition. Take your medication with a sip of water only.
How Is Radiofrequency Ablation Done?
The procedure doesn't usually require anesthesia. When you will be going for spinal ablation, you will have to lie on your stomach. The doctor will use an intravenous (IV) line to administer a sedative – this will help you relax. They will then make use of an anesthetic to numb a very small area around your spine. By making use of x-ray guidance, they will insert a specially designed radiofrequency needle into your body.
You may experience slight pain here because the doctor will pass a very small amount of current through a probe that will be alongside the radiofrequency needle to ensure proper positioning. After the confirmation, your doctor will introduce more anesthetic to prepare the area to perform the RFA procedure. You will feel nothing or sometimes only a mild warm sensation during the procedure. Depending upon the location of pain, the procedure may take two hours or so.
Is the Procedure of Radiofrequency Ablation Safe?
RFA is generally a safe procedure with fewer complications involved. You don't usually experience any severe pain during the procedure either. In rare cases, you may end up developing an infection or experiencing bleeding at the insertion site. It isn't that serious usually. You should talk to your doctor though if you experience severe pain at the insertion site after the procedure. If you also notice swelling at the injection site, seek immediate medical attention and inform them that you just had radiofrequency ablation.
What Are the Side Effects of Radio Frequency Ablation?
As mentioned already, RFA is usually a safe procedure with little to no complications involved. You may, however, have to deal with certain side effects for some time after your procedure. For instance:
- Leg numbness: One of the side effects of RFA is leg numbness. This side effect usually last for a few hours after your procedure. It is not a direct side effect of RFA, but is usually the outcome of using local anesthesia used during the procedure. It is highly recommended to have someone with you or use assistance when walking.
- Mild back discomfort: After a few hours, when the local anesthetic wears off, you may experience mild back pain. You may have to deal with this slight discomfort for a few days – it usually resolves in three days or so. You can use cold compress to alleviate the discomfort. Using moist heat will also help if the discomfort persists after a few days. Your doctor may recommend some pain medications as well.
Who Should Not Take Radiofrequency Ablation?
You should avoid going for an RFA procedure if you're on a blood thinning medication or you may experience excessive bleeding during the procedure. It is also a good idea to avoid it if you have an active infection or you have poorly controlled heart disease or diabetes. In these cases, you may want to postpone the procedure until the infection clears off and your diabetes stabilizes a bit. Moreover, you may not benefit much from this procedure if you have a history of not responding well to diagnostic injections.