Chronic pain of any kind can be debilitating, affecting your daily life and the lives of those around you. If you are suffering from chronic pain that has not responded to other treatments but are wary of jumping into surgery, there is another intermediate, minimally-invasive procedure to consider. Radiofrequency ablation can provide long-term pain relief with few, if any, side effects, for a variety of pain conditions. Here’s what you should know.
What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation uses fluoroscopic guidance to send an electrical pulse to a specific nerve or group of nerves to damage them, thereby blocking future pain signals from this area to your brain.
In most cases, a medial branch block will first be performed to verify the source of the pain. If this procedure results in pain relief, radiofrequency ablation may be a good choice for long-term pain relief.
How can radiofrequency ablation help me?
Many patients who are suffering from chronic pain conditions that have not responded to other treatments find serious and long-lasting relief with radiofrequency ablation.
The most common conditions treated are back pain and neck pain.
Radiofrequency ablation for back pain
Back pain of any type is the most common condition treated with radiofrequency ablation. The spine consists of 33 vertebrae separated by fluid-filled discs that cushion their movement against each other. Tendons and other connective tissues keep these joints stable, and nerves wind in and around the facet joints to help the spine to twist and move sideways.
There are a number of conditions that can cause inflammation and pain in the spine, including:
- Facet joint syndrome
- Herniated or bulging discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Injury or trauma to the spine
- Sacroiliac pain
Once the cause of your pain is diagnosed, radiofrequency ablation can block pain signals. In conjunction with this procedure, your doctor may suggest a plan of physical therapy and exercise to support your recovery and strengthen your back muscles.
Radiofrequency ablation for neck pain
The neck region of your spine, referred to as the cervical region, is delicate and susceptible to injury and damage over time.
As we spend more time looking at screens with our heads held forward, the strain on our neck is tremendous. This can lead to degeneration of the vertebrae in the neck as well as disc issues and fractures in the cervical spine.
Radiofrequency ablation can help restore mobility and relieve pain in the neck. The procedure is similar for both neck and back pain cases.
Radiofrequency ablation can help with neck and lower back pain, but there are a number of other uses. These include helping patients with:
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
- Headaches, including cluster headaches and migraines
- Cancer tumors (most commonly of the liver)
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Shoulder pain
How does radiofrequency ablation work?
Radiofrequency ablation damages nerves to prevent them from sending pain signals to the brain.
For patients who have tried other treatments (e.g., medication, physical therapy, and chiropractic) with no success, radiofrequency ablation can truly change their lives.
In addition, this procedure is considered minimally-invasive and can help patients avoid expensive surgeries with long recovery times. Most patients experience nearly immediate pain relief, increased mobility, and an overall increase in their quality of life after one treatment.
What to expect after radiofrequency ablation
From start to finish your radiofrequency ablation procedure will only take a couple of hours. You may not feel immediate pain relief. Some patients may actually experience a minor uptick in pain levels, but this should go away quickly.
Expect to take it easy for at least two days after your procedure. Avoid heavy lifting, strenuous exercise, or fully immersing the injection site in water (no baths or swimming). Your doctor will direct you on how to keep the injection site clean and any other precautions to take.
You will gradually be able to return to your regular activities and should find increasing pain relief over a month or so.
Radiofrequency ablation recovery time
Radiofrequency ablation recovery time depends on a variety of factors, including which condition is being treated and your overall health. Common side effects include:
- Bruising or light bleeding at the injection site
- Soreness that is unrelated to the pain being treated
- Numbness in the legs
- Temporary increase in pain
These side effects should disappear within three days. For soreness and mild swelling, take over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications as directed by your doctor. An ice pack can also provide some relief.
Less common but more severe potential side effects include infection, muscle weakness, paralysis, and severe pain that does not go away after three days. Any fluid draining from the injection site or a fever over 100.4°F can indicate infection. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these side effects.
Is radiofrequency ablation painful?
No one wants to replace chronic pain with radiofrequency ablation pain. The good news is that the procedure itself is generally not painful. Your doctor will use either a local anesthetic to numb the area or a mild IV sedative, depending on what’s right for you. If a local anesthetic is used, you may feel a pinch as it is injected. As noted, some patients may experience some pain after the procedure, but this is usually short-lived and mild.
At Alliance Pain Solutions, your comfort during this procedure is of paramount importance. We have a variety of options to help set you at ease and make the procedure as pain-free as possible.
How long does radiofrequency ablation last?
Since radiofrequency ablation damages the nerves that send pain signals, many patients report pain relief lasting anywhere from six to 18 months. This number depends on the rate at which a patient’s nerves regenerate.
Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of radiofrequency ablation for lower back pain for as long as a year, with 58% of patients in one study reporting a 50% improvement in pain levels after two years. Significantly, another study found that patient quality of life improved with radiofrequency ablation, even relative to cost and when compared with other treatments for chronic pain.
Alliance Pain Solutions is a West Phoenix pain clinic that welcomes patients from all over the Valley. If you are experiencing pain that just isn’t responding to other treatments, get in touch today.