What is Lumbar Spondylosis Radiofrequency Ablation?

Your lumbar spine, also known as your low back, is located between your ribcage and your pelvis and comprised of the five largest vertebrae in your spine.

Throughout your lifetime, your spinal discs endure normal wear and tear. The term for this normal deterioration is spondylosis. When it refers specifically to the lumbar discs, it is called lumbar spondylosis.

As you age, your spinal discs dehydrate, shrink, develop bone spurs or show other signs of osteoarthritis. You may or may not experience associated symptoms, such as a stiff low back, pain, tingling sensations, numbness or weakness in your extremities, and loss of control over your bladder or bowels. The condition and symptoms usually worsen as a person ages.

Treatment for lumbar spondylosis may include medications such as muscle relaxants, anti-seizure drugs, narcotics and steroid injections. Physical therapy may also serve to strengthen the muscles in your back to better support the spine.

If the symptoms are unbearable and the condition shows no signs of improvement following conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend a more invasive treatment, for example, surgery, to relieve the pressure in your spinal area.

As the spinal discs develop bone spurs or other abnormalities, the bones may pinch nerves, creating a lot of pain. Surgery allows the doctor to remove a herniated disc, bone spur or other piece of bone from a patient’s spine to make more room for the spinal cord and nerve roots.

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that can be used to treat lumbar spondylosis. With this type of therapy, the doctor first applies a local anesthetic to an area on your low back. Then, typically using X-ray, the doctor will guide a thin needle through the skin and into the spinal area. The X-ray is to help ensure correct placement.

High-frequency electrical current is carried via the needle into the spinal area, where the heat from the needle can destroy bone spurs or other parts of discs that are putting a lot of pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Usually the patient does not feel pain during this portion of the procedure, although some patients report a tingling sensation. Generally the tingling feeling is desired, since it helps the doctor know that the placement of the needle is correct.

The procedure is safe and effective, with most patients tolerating the treatment very well. As with any procedure, however, there are risks and potential complications, including a risk of infection or excessive bleeding at the injection site.

Prior to the procedure your doctor may ask you to stop taking any medications that have blood-thinning effects. You will also have to keep an eye on the injection site for infection in the days after the procedure.

Patients are typically not allowed to drink or eat anything in the hours leading up to the procedure, so following the treatment you will be asked to remain in a recovery room for a few hours so that your vial signs can be monitored and you can rehydrate, usually by drinking some water.

The injection site will be bandaged and a medical professional will give you your discharge instructions. Then you will be allowed to be taken home by a responsible adult.

Side effects of lumbar spondylosis radiofrequency ablation include normal swelling and discomfort, but these usually subside a few days after the treatment. If you experience any pain beyond two to three days following the procedure, or if you notice swelling or redness near the injection site, contact your doctor immediately.