Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure designed to reduce chronic pain through the application of an electrical current to inflamed nerves. This current, produced by radio waves, delivers heat to the nerve, preventing it from sending pain signals to the brain. Patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the neck or lower back may find their pain reduced or even eliminated following a RFA treatment.
Those who have experienced pain relief from a diagnostic nerve block are typically good candidates for RFA. This procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia, though if the patient requires sedation, an anesthesiologist may administer medication through an IV tube. Using a real-time x-ray, the RFA needle is guided to the affected nerves. With the needle positioned at the problem nerve, the physician applies a small active current through the needle. This recreates the pain typically experienced by the patient and confirms that the correct nerve has been found. Heat is then applied directly to the nerve, forming a lesion and disrupting the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain.
The radiofrequency ablation procedure typically takes about 30 to 90 minutes to complete. Patients can usually return home the same day but should avoid any rigorous activities for 24 hours. Most patients are able to return to normal activities the day after the procedure. Though results vary between patients, many feel relief for 6 to 12 months after radiofrequency ablation, while some remain pain-free for years.