Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) is a procedure used to reduce pain. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area. RFA can be used to help patients with chronic (long-lasting) low-back pain. RFA has proven to be a safe and effective way to treat some forms of pain. It also is generally well-tolerated, with very few associated complications.
Radiofrequency waves are electromagnetic waves which travel at the speed of light, or 300,000 km/s. Radiofrequency Energy is a type of heat energy that is created by a special generator at very high or super high frequencies. With the use of this specialized generator, heat energy is created and delivered with precision to target nerves that carry pain impulses. The resulting “lesion”involves a spherical area of tissue destruction at the tip of the RF needle that can include pain-carrying nerves.
Radiofrequency ablation/lesioning is a procedure used to provide longer term pain relief than that provided by simple injections or nerve blocks. Many patients who are being considered for this procedure have already undergone simple injection techniques like Epidural Steroid Injection, Facet Joint Injection, Sympathetic Nerve Blocks, or other nerve blocks with pain relief that is less prolonged than desired. By selectively destroying nerves that carry pain impulses, the painful structure can be effectively denervated and the pain reduced or eliminated for anywhere from a few months to up to 12 months.
What types of conditions will respond to Radiofrequency Lesioning?
There are a multitude of chronic pain conditions that respond well to this treatment. Chronic spinal pain, including spinal arthritis (spondylosis), post-traumatic pain (whiplash), pain after spine surgery, and other spinal pain conditions are those most commonly treated with RFL. Other conditions that are known to respond well to RFL include some neuropathic pain conditions like Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS or RSD), peripheral nerve entrapment syndromes, and other assorted chronic pain conditions. A patient’s candidacy for RFL is usually determined by the performance of a Diagnostic Nerve Block. This procedure will help to confirm whether a patient’s pain improves just for the duration of the local anesthetic (or not). Patients who have little to no pain relief after a diagnostic nerve block are not candidates for a neurodestructive procedure like RF Lesioning.