What is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a treatment that uses heat produced by radio waves to ablate or burn nerves causing pain. When nerves are ablated, pain signals are unable to be sent to the brain, providing near instant relief. Two diagnostic tests must be completed prior to radiofrequency ablation. Relief typically lasts for 6 to 12 months.
What Does it Treat?
Radiofrequency ablation treats pain originating in the nerves, typically around the spinal cord. Radiofrequency ablation is most commonly used to ablate medial or lateral branch nerves around the spinal cord. By ablating these nerves, pain can be reduced or eliminated, improving function.
How Does the Procedure Work?
The targeted area is numbed with local anesthetic, to prevent pain and discomfort for the patient. Using the guidance of fluoroscopy, the physician will guide a hollowed needle, known as a cannula, to the targeted nerves, most commonly the medial branch nerves that lie on the outside of vertebrae. A thin electrode is inserted through the needle, and the physician will send radiofrequency signals through the electrode, creating a small burn, stopping pain signals. The physician will repeat this process for multiple nerves, as needed to treat pain in the affected area.
What are the Risks?
Although the complication rate for the radiofrequency ablation procedure is low, all surgical procedures, even those that use a needle, have risk of infection, and procedures that uses general or local anesthesia have risks of anesthetic complications. Radiofrequency ablation is considered to be low risk, however complications including heat damage to structures adjacent to the target nerve, can occur. Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally-invasive procedure, which has substantially lower risk of complications, including infection, when compared to open surgery.
Benefits of Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation is a fantastic method for treating pain without the need for surgery. By ablating the nerves, pain relief is long lasting, typically from 6 to 12 months; in some cases, pain relief lasts longer or pain does not return.