Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), also called radiofrequency neurotomy, uses radio waves to create a current that heats a small area of nerve tissue. The heat destroys that area of the nerve, stopping it from sending pain signals to your brain. RFA can provide lasting relief for people with chronic pain, especially in the lower back, neck and arthritic joints.
Why is radiofrequency ablation (RFA) done?
The goals of radiofrequency ablation are to:
- Stop or reduce pain.
- Improve function.
- Reduce the number of pain medications taken.
- Avoid or delay surgery.
What conditions can be treated with radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat:
- Chronic pain caused by conditions including arthritis of the spine (spondylosis) and sacroiliac (SI) joint pain.
- Pain in your neck, back and knee.
- Cancer pain.
- Facial pain caused by trigeminal neuralgia.
- Peripheral nerve pain.
- Heart rhythm problems.
- Tumors (to kill cells).
Pain management within your spine
Radiofrequency ablation is often used to manage pain originating from joints (such as your knee) and oftentimes related to pain from your spine, especially your neck and lower back (lumbar area of your spine).
Within your spine, nerves branch off from your spinal cord and travel to the facet joints and sacroiliac joints.
Facet joints are pairs of small joints between the vertebrae in your spine. These joints give your spine flexibility and allow movement of your back, such as twisting and bending. Two small nerves, called medial branch nerves, are connected to the facet joints and send a signal to your brain that there is pain coming from these joints.
Sacroiliac joints are found near the bottom of your spine, right above your tailbone. Lateral branch nerves that are connected to these joints send pain signals from the spine to your brain.
Using radiofrequency ablation to treat the targeted medial branch nerve in the facet joints or the lateral branch nerve in the sacroiliac joints decreases pain signals from reaching your brain.
Who is a candidate for radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) may be right for you if have:
- Pain relief following a nerve block injection. This tells your provider that that particular nerve is the source of your pain and is an appropriate target for RFA.
- Chronic pain that does not respond to other treatment, such as pain medication and physical therapy.
You may not be a candidate for radiofrequency ablation if you:
- Are pregnant.
- Have an infection.
- Have a bleeding problem.