Radiofrequency Ablations

A radio-frequency ablation procedure

What are radiofrequency ablations?

A radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally-invasive procedure used to alleviate pain through the use of radiofrequency (RF) waves. Radiofrequency ablations are also known as rhizotomies or neurotomies. The procedure involves producing an electrical current from radio waves that ablates, or burns, the nerves responsible for causing pain. It prevents the transmission of pain signals from the treatment area to the brain.

What conditions are treated with a radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablations are most commonly used to treat chronic pain and other painful conditions such as arthritis.

  • arthritis of the spine
  • nerve pain
  • sacroilitis
  • chronic pain in the neck, back, knee, or pelvis

What is treated with steroid injections like?

Before your injection, you may need to stop taking certain medications. Talk to your doctor about what medications you are taking and if you need to stop taking them.

Radiofrequency ablations are usually performed in a pain management provider's office or outpatient center that has access to imaging equipment. You may receive a local anesthetic and sedative prior to the procedure. Your provider will have you position yourself in a way that allows them use x-ray imaging to guide the needle in real-time into the correct area for treatment. The technique is similar to a diagnostic block, which is well tolerated by patients. Discomfort will be minimal and will resemble a feeling of pressure. Once the needle has been placed, electric current is passed through the needle to create a small, precise burn on the nerves causing pain.

The injections are usually given in the following areas:

  • spine
  • neck
  • knee
  • pelvis

After the injection, the area may be sore for several days. Most people return to normal activity within 72 hours of the procedure.

How quickly do radiofrequency ablations work?

Typically patients report pain relief within 10 days of treatments; however, each person's body responds differently. Some patients report immediate relief and for other it may take up to 3 weeks.

How long does the pain relief last?

Generally you can expect the relief to last 1-2 years, depending on how your body responds and how quickly your nerves grow back.

Are there any side effects?

Radiofrequency ablations are relatively safe procedures. Although there is minimal risk, potential side effects of RFA include:

  • burning or hyper-sensitivity at the treatment area
  • numbness or tingling at the treatment area

These side effect are usually not severe but can last days to weeks.

RFA's may not be right for everyone. Discuss your options with your provider.

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