What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) and why is it performed?
Radiofrequency Ablation is an injection that uses a specialized machine that generates radiofrequency current. The current is then passed through a special needle placed next to the nerve (medial branch) which carries pain from the facet joints to the spinal cord. The current generates heat which blocks transmission of pain. Radiofrequency Ablation is performed after the patient has benefitted from diagnostic medial branch nerve blocks.
How is the procedure performed?
The procedure is performed under x-ray with the patient lying on his/her stomach. The skin is cleansed with an antiseptic solution and then anesthetized with a numbing medication. After the skin is numb, needles are placed near the target nerve under x-ray guidance. The nerve will then be numbed prior to starting the radiofrequency ablation.
Will the injection hurt?
There is some discomfort with needle insertion which we minimize by numbing the skin over the joint with a local anesthetic. You may elect to have a small amount of sedating medication to help with discomfort and to help you relax.
How long does the effect last?
The effect will hopefully last for an extended period of time (one year on average). You will likely experience some increase in your neck or back pain over the next several days and then your pain should improve.
What is the next step after the injection?
You will be given a pain log to complete after the procedure. This will help us to measure your response to the injection and determine the next most appropriate plan of care. Please bring your pain log with you to your follow up appointment.
What are the risks and side effects?
Serious side effects and complications are rare. The most common problem after the injection is having pain near the injection site for a few days. The other complications are infection, bleeding and nerve injury. These complications are minimized by stopping blood thinners, using sterile technique, and fluoroscopy for x-ray needle guidance.