FAQs on Radiofrequency Ablation in Nashville TN

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), also called radiofrequency neurotomy, is a minimally invasive procedure that offers lasting relief for patients with facet joint pain. Many clinical studies show that RFA provides long-lasting pain relief for 1-2 years after the procedure.

What are the health benefits of RFA?

The benefits of radiofrequency ablation include:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Long-lasting pain relief
  • Decreased use of analgesics
  • Low complication rate
  • Short recovery time
  • Greater range of motion
  • Delay of surgery

How do I prepare for the radiofrequency ablation procedure?

Before the radiofrequency ablation, the doctor confirms the diagnosis through use of a medial branch block or facet joint injection. If you are a good candidate for RFA, the doctor conducts a medical history and performs a physical examination.

If you are on blood-thinning medications, be sure to discuss this with the Nashville pain management doctor, as you must hold the medication prior to the procedure. You are not permitted to eat or drink for 6 hours before the RFA, but can take needed medications with small sips of water. In addition, you will need someone to drive you home, as driving is not allowed for 24 hours.

How is the radiofrequency procedure performed?

The radiofrequency neurotomy is performed with the patient mildly sedated. A nurse will place an IV catheter in your arm to administer necessary medications. The doctor numbs the skin and soft tissues with a local anesthetic. Under x-ray guidance, the doctor inserts a needle and electrode in the treatment area. Once confirming placement, a high-frequency electrical current passes through the electrode, which targets the nerve. Once a portion of the nerve is destroyed, the needle is removed and a bandage is applied.

What should I expect after the radiofrequency procedure?

Once the procedure is completed, you will be moved to a recovery area where you will remain for 45-60 minutes. A nurse will monitor your vital signs and condition. Expect mild pain at the injection site, but this typically resolves after a few hours. We recommend that you take it easy for 24-48 hours before returning to normal activities. In addition, you cannot soak in a tub or go swimming for a few days. For muscle soreness and injection site pain, use ice packs for 20-minute intervals a few times each day.

How painful is the radiofrequency ablation procedure?

Many layers of soft tissue, fat, and muscle surround and protect the nerves in the body. With radiofrequency ablation, the needles are inserted through these layers, so there is some pain involved. However, the doctor first numbs the area with an anesthetic, so patients feel pressure rather than pain. When the electrical current reaches the nerves, you may experience some tingling but no pain.

What are the side effects, risks, and complications associated with radiofrequency ablation?

As with all minimally invasive procedures, there are some risks associated with the RFA procedure. These include bruising, infection, bleeding, allergic reaction to medications, and nerve injury. Side effects can include drowsiness, low blood pressure, and soreness at the injection site.

What is the success rate of the radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation has many positive effects for the relief of back pain, sacroiliac joint pain, and facet joint pain. In one large review of clinical studies, several reports found this procedure to offer long-term pain relief, whereas others proved that it only helped short-term. In a study of patients who suffered from SI joint syndrome, more than half of the patients reported a 50% reduction in pain scores at the six-month follow-up.

Resources

Ferrante FM, et al. (2004). Radiofrequency sacroiliac joint denervation for sacroiliac syndrome. Pain Medicine, 5(1):26–32. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2004.04009.

Hansen HC, McKenzie-Brown AM, & Cohen SP (2007). Sacroiliac joint interventions: a systematic review. Pain Physician, 10:165–184.

Nath S, Nath CA, & Pettersson K (2008). Percutaneous lumbar zygapophysial (facet) joint neurotomy using radiofrequency current, in the management of chronic low back pain. A randomized double-blind trial. Spine, 33(12):1291-7.