Radiofrequency Ablasion – How this treatment offers Chronic Nerve Pain Relief.

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) 

This is a procedure to address Nerve Pain that creates heat by using an electrical current produced by a radio wave. This procedure is used to heat nerve tissue for the purpose of relieving nerve pain. Radiofrequency ablation can be used to treat patients with chronic back pain, neck pain and joint pain. In 2012 I had been subjected to two separate MRI’s to try and identify the cause of the extreme pain in my neck. The first MRI was performed of my entire spine with no dye. This MRI identified the fact that I had three bulging disc in my neck, the neurosurgeon that ordered the MRI was not satisfied. I was subjected to three rounds of pain block injections with very minimal relief. So a second MRI was performed with intravenous dye. The second MRI identified that on the right side of my neck I had a nerve ending in contact with the C-3 disc. The neurosurgeon then scheduled the Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure. Immediate pain relief was achieved afterwards and I’m happy to say that I’m approximately 95% pain free. The reason for the 5% discrepancy is due to the bulging disc issue.

Detailed Discussion about Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation can be used to reduce pain signaling from the nerves in a specific area of the body. The resulting pain relief following the procedure varies, as it can last from months to years. More than 70 percent of patients treated with this procedure experience nerve pain relief, as per research performed by WebMD

The procedure is effective, safe and well-tolerated. Few complications are associated with the procedure, although there is a minimal risk of infection and bleeding due to a needle and electrode being inserted during the procedure, as per research performed by WebMD. I did not experience any complications from this procedure. The procedure was performed on a out patient format. 45 minutes after the procedure I was able to walk out of the clinic and go home. BTW you must have someone to drive you home.

Prior to a radiofrequency ablation procedure, a patient may receive a sedative and local anesthetic. The patient generally remains awake during the procedure to assist with assessment of it. A needle is inserted into the area where pain is being experienced, and a microelectrode is then inserted through the needle to initiate the process.  The doctor performing the procedure may ask a patient if a tingling sensation is felt in order to determine where the optimal placement area of the electrode should be. In my case I was sedated, I could here the conversation between the doctor and nurse but I was not part of the conversation. The same doctor had performed my pain block injections.

What is nerve ablation for back pain?

Nerve ablation for nerve pain of the back is a procedure in which a radio wave produces an electric current that heats up a small area of nerves to decrease the amount of pain signals. It is used on patients with degenerative disks caused by arthritis.

Results from radio frequency ablation, or RFA, vary, WebMD states. Approximately 70 percent of patients report some nerve pain relief. The relief lasts typically six to 12 months, but some patients report that it has lasted for years.

Side effects of radio frequency ablation include discomfort, bruising and swelling at the treatment site, WebMD explains. It usually goes away after a few days. There is a slight risk of infection and bleeding at the site.

The procedure typically starts with preparing the patient with a mild intravenous sedative and a medication to numb the area at the treatment site, WebMD says. The doctor guides a needle to the area in which the patient is experiencing pain and inserts a micro-electrode that creates the radio waves.

The doctor often asks the patient if he can feel a tingling sensation to determine if the micro-electrode is in the right spot, WebMD states. After the appropriate site has been determined, the treatment starts. Patients typically feel nothing during the process.

How does radiofrequency ablation help relieve backpain?

Radiofrequency ablation helps relieve back pain by creating a heat lesion on the nerves causing the pain and interrupting the transmission of pain signals to the brain, according to Spine-health. Needles are inserted through the skin above the spine to deliver radio waves that heat nerves, notes Mayo Clinic.

Biological tissues readily absorb some frequencies of radio energy. The absorbed energy rapidly heats tissues, similar to the way a microwave oven heats food, explains the Health Physics Society. Because bodily tissues have a limited ability to shed or dissipate the generated heat, tissue damage can occur with high levels of radio frequency exposure. Radiofrequency ablation leverages this thermal effect to purposely damage nerves that are sending pain signals.

In a radiofrequency ablation procedure, the physician precisely guides the needle to the specific target area using fluoroscope imaging scans. The doctor injects small amounts of numbing medication in advance of the ablation procedure to help confirm the patient is a viable ablation candidate and to identify the precise locations where ablation is needed to reduce the pain. Accurate identification of the nerves causing the pain is key to the effectiveness of the procedure. Pain relief typically lasts six to nine months after treatment, and radiofrequency ablation is more effective for some patients than others, notes Mayo Clinic.

Which patient makes the best candidate for radiofrequency ablation?

Patients who suffer neck or back pain due to arthritis, an injury or other facet joint problems are ideal candidates for radiofrequency ablation, according to OhioHealth MedCentral Hospitals. Patients with reflex sympathetic dystrophy affecting the arms or legs may also benefit from the procedure.

In patients with neck or back pain caused by facet joint issues, radiofrequency ablation is performed to disrupt nerves directly connected to the facet joints, explains OhioHealth MedCentral Hospitals. People who experience stomach pain, occipital neuralgia or pain resulting from degenerative disks are also potential candidates for radiofrequency ablation.

Radiofrequency ablation is usually reserved for individuals who have already tried conventional treatments, such as physical therapy, chiropractic treatment and anti-inflammatory drugs, notes OhioHealth MedCentral Hospitals. It is essential that patients respond well to trial injections prior to undergoing the procedure.

Radiofrequency ablation decreases pain by blocking pain signals, states OhioHealth MedCentral Hospitals. In most patients, the pain controlled by the blocked nerve is eliminated; however, pain from other areas remains. With the use of electric current or radio waves, the procedure produces enough heat to stop nerve conduction for a short period. Nerves are typically blocked for six to nine months, but it’s possible for the nerves to remain blocked up to 18 months or longer.

Research References:

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