What Is Radiofrequency Ablation?

If you suffer from chronic pain, radiofrequency ablation is a cutting-edge therapy that may help you find pain relief.

After undergoing radiofrequency ablation, patients have reported:

  • Pain relief
  • Reduced recovery times after surgery
  • Improvement in quality of life
  • Increased range of motion
  • Decreased need to take pain medications when compared to more conservative treatment options

In this post, we discuss:

  • How pain doctors perform a radiofrequency ablation procedure
  • Pain conditions that benefit from this procedure
  • The benefits of radiofrequency ablation
  • Possible radiofrequency ablation side effects
  • If radiofrequency ablation could help you reduce your pain

Radiofrequency ablation basics

Radiofrequency ablation is a therapy that uses radio waves to create an electrical current through the body. This current delivers heat to targeted nerve tissues. And this can help reduce your chronic pain symptoms that are associated with various conditions. This is because the heat is applied to the nerve tissue in a way that impairs or destroys the nerves. This can result in a semi-permanent disturbance of the transmission of pain signals from the spinal column to the brain.

Radiofrequency ablation was initially discovered to be an effective treatment for the relief of chronic pain in 1931. It was first utilized to treat a patient with trigeminal neuralgia, which is a pain condition that affects facial nerves, resulting in severe jolts of pain. Due to the treatment benefits of this procedure, radiofrequency ablation has become increasingly popular for both physicians and patients over the past 15 years.

Our very own Dr. Lynch shows how radiofrequency ablation is done in the following video.


What Are Radiofrequency Ablation Benefits?

The best radiofrequency ablation benefits include:

  • It can be performed in an outpatient environment
  • The needle can be inserted at a precise location in the body
  • It’s a minimally-invasive procedure, with fast results
  • Your pain doctor can repeat the procedure if more pain relief is needed
  • Many patients, especially those with back pain, experience profound pain relief

Numerous reports have shown that radiofrequency ablation leads to a greater reduction in spinal back pain compared to conventional treatment options, due to the disruption of nerve function that occurs with this procedure. Further, the reports have suggested that the pain reduction is sustained for six to 12 months after the procedure is performed. There are additional benefits of this treatment that may also contribute to it’s appeal.

Types of radiofrequency ablation

Continuous radiofrequency and pulsed radiofrequency are the two basic types of radiofrequency ablation. Both of these methods have been shown to be effective for disrupting pain signal transmission from specific nerves, resulting in a reduction or elimination of chronic pain symptoms. It has been found that the damage that is induced by the heat is primarily responsible for the efficacy of this pain therapy procedure. However, some reports have suggested that the effect that the electrical field has on gene expression within the pain processing neurons may be responsible for relief of pain symptoms.

At the present time, radiofrequency ablation is frequently used to treat lumbar facet joint, or lower back pain. The facet joints are located within the spine and connect the vertebrae to one another. Within the facet joints are medial branch nerve networks, which are responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain when there is nerve tissue damage or inflammation. When a patient’s pain becomes persistent, radiofrequency ablation is usually performed to destroy the affected medical branch nerve. This can help relieve or eliminate the patient’s pain.

Additionally, radiofrequency ablation has been used successfully to treat other conditions, including:

Radiofrequency Ablation | PainDoctor.com

The Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure

The radiofrequency ablation procedure is performed in an outpatient setting and requires very few medications during the procedure. Prior, the physician will address any concerns you have and talk about any complications that may occur during the procedure. Patients are discharged within a few hours after the completion of the procedure, making this relatively quick.

In an effort to decrease discomfort during a radiofrequency ablation procedure, an anesthetic and possibly a mild sedative will be given via an intravenous line. After the anesthetic has numbed the area sufficiently, your physician inserts a needle into the area of the spinal column where the nerves that are causing the pain are located. Usually, the patient is placed in a prone position for this procedure; however, if the affected nerves are located in areas such as the neck, the patient may lie in a supine position.

Imaging techniques, including X-ray or fluoroscopic guidance, are utilized during radiofrequency ablation to help guide the needle and ensure proper needle insertion. After proper needle insertion is complete, a microelectrode is inserted through the needle. While the microelectrode is positioned, a very small electric current is initiated, which produces a tingling sensation. The patient is asked if they can feel the tingling while the physician observes both motor and sensory stimulation in the patient. This helps to ensure that the microelectrode is positioned properly.

It is imperative that the nerve responsible for creating pain is treated during this procedure as opposed to motor nerves. Therefore, mild electrical stimulation is also used to confirm that the large muscle groups are not being stimulated by the treatment. This electrical stimulation may result in undesired effects, such as twitching and throbbing; however, it is necessary as it provides the physician with an indication of areas that they should avo