31 million Americans experience back pain at any given time. Facet joints are a well-recognized source of pain in patients with persistent back pain. There are options for relieving facet joint pain. Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that can provide lasting relief to those suffering from facet joint pain. In fact, multiple clinical studies show that radiofrequency ablation significantly reduces pain severity and frequency for one to two years in the majority of patients.
What Is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) is a procedure used to reduce pain. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area. RFA can be used to help patients with chronic (long-lasting) low back pain, neck pain, and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis. After administering a local anesthetic, using X-ray, your doctor will guide the needle to the exact target area. A microelectrode is then inserted through the needle to begin the stimulation process.
RFA has proven to be a safe and effective way to treat some forms of pain. It also is generally well-tolerated, with very few associated complications. There is a slight risk of infection and bleeding at the insertion site. Your doctor can advise you about your particular risk.
- Significant and longer-lasting pain relief compared to steroid injections
- Low complication and morbidity rates
- Appreciable pain relief compared to surgery: Nearly half of back pain sufferers are not helped by surgery
- Greater range of motion
- Lower use of analgesics
- Improved quality of life
- Short recovery time
How Do I Prepare for Radiofrequency Ablation?
To prepare for radio frequency ablation treatment, you should take a few precautions, including:
- Do not eat within six hours of your appointment; however, you may have clear liquids until two hours before the procedure.
- If you have diabetes and use insulin, you must adjust the dosage the day of the procedure. Your primary care doctor will help you with this adjustment. Bring your diabetes medication with you so you can take it after the procedure.
- Continue to take all other medications with a small sip of water. Bring all medication with you so you can take it after the procedure. Please note: Do not discontinue any medication without first consulting with your primary or referring doctor.
- You will need to bring someone with you to drive you home after the procedure. You should not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
Most people who receive this procedure stay in hospital overnight. But it’s sometimes possible to have your treatment as an outpatient and go home the same day. Your doctor or specialist nurse will give you painkillers to take home with you.
If you are interested in learning more about radiofrequency ablation (RFA) call Don F. Mills, MD at (949) 502-5777 to request a consultation.