Radiofrequency Neuroablation: What to Expect

You’re struggling with pain due to a nerve group in your spine that’s compromised, causing it to send pain signals to your brain. Medications have proven ineffective, so you want to take the next step with radiofrequency ablation. The good news is twofold: First, this procedure is highly effective for helping you find relief; and 2) It’s minimally invasive.

Radiofrequency ablation is a pain-management technique that our team often uses at Spinal Diagnostics to help our patients find much-needed relief from back or neck pain. When nerve fibers in the facet joints along your spine are compressed or irritated, we can interrupt the resulting pain signals with a radiofrequency ablation procedure.

Here’s a look at what conditions can benefit from a radiofrequency ablation and what you can expect before, during, and after your procedure.

Appropriate uses for radiofrequency ablation

At our practice, we’ve found that radiofrequency ablation is an effective tool for relieving facet joint-mediated pain along your spine. At the back of each of your vertebral segments, you have a pair of small joints that connect your vertebrae. Called your facet joints, they’re unique in that they contain a large number of sensitive nerves, which means that any degeneration in these small joints can quickly lead to pain.

Your facet joints tend to wear down in areas of your spine that are more active, such as your lumbar spine (lower back) and your cervical spine (neck). In fact, 15-45% of lower back pain stems from your lumbar facet joints.

While these two areas are more commonly affected by facet joint dysfunction, we offer thoracic (mid back) radiofrequency ablation, in addition to cervical and lumbar ablations.

Pretesting for a radiofrequency ablation

If we decide that you may benefit from a radiofrequency ablation, we typically perform two diagnostic medial branch block injections to ensure that we’re targeting the right nerve group. After we perform the block using a local anesthetic, we ask that you don’t apply any ice or take any medications for six hours so that we can determine whether we’ve found the nerve(s) responsible for your pain.

If your back or neck pain enjoys a period of relief after your medical branch blocks, we schedule you for a radiofrequency ablation.

Undergoing your radiofrequency ablation

When you come in for your radiofrequency ablation, which we perform right here in our offices, we first make you comfortable with a local anesthetic. Once you’re ready, we use fluoroscopy (live X-ray guidance) to insert a needle into the area where your problematic nerves are located.

With the needle in position, we send radiofrequency energy through, which cauterizes the nerves. 

The ablation takes us only minutes to perform and, once we’re sure everything went smoothly, you can return home.

After your radiofrequency ablation

You may feel some discomfort in the area(s) where we inserted a needle, but you can quickly remedy this with a cold pack and some over-the-counter pain relievers. You may also experience some residual pain due to the nerve ablation or because of a muscle spasm, which you can treat as outlined above.

We ask that you take it easy for a day or two, and most of our patients return to their normal schedules within 2-3 days.

When it comes to results, patients experience different timelines, with most enjoying anywhere from nine months to two years or more of relief. One of the main reasons behind the disparity is that it’s hard to predict nerve regrowth. 

If you still have more questions about radiofrequency ablation, feel free to contact one of our locations in Tualatin or Newberg, Oregon, to speak to one of our staff.

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