Peripheral nerves are located outside of your brain and spinal cord and relay information between your brain and body. These nerves make up the peripheral nervous system, and there are three types of peripheral nerves: sensory nerves that allow you to feel pain and other sensations, autonomic nerves that control involuntary bodily functions, and motor nerves that stimulate movement.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure that uses heat waves to “burn” the nerves causing pain and is most commonly performed on the nerves located in your back, neck, or buttocks. Those who have a current infection, bleeding problems, and are pregnant should not receive this treatment. This treatment can provide long-term relief past what nerve blocks or steroid injections can provide.
Chronic pain in the neck, back, knee, pelvic, and peripheral nerves
Conditions such as spondylosis and sacroiliitis
This outpatient non-surgical treatment option can help relieve pain without long periods of rehabilitation or recovery. This treatment provides immediate pain relief and functional mobility in your back while decreasing your need for other pain medications.
Prior to the procedure, you should ask your doctor if you may take your medication as normal, as you may be asked to stop taking blood thinners or immunosuppressant medications to reduce your risk of complications. Inform your doctor if you have any allergies to medication or iodine.
During the procedure, you’ll lay on your stomach on an x-ray table. Some patients will be sedated while others will not. If you are being sedated, do not eat or drink before your procedure. After the sedation goes into effect, the medical professional performing the procedure will disinfect the injection site before injecting the medication near the medial or lateral branch nerves in your back. An electrode is inserted through a needle that allows a low-voltage electrical current to pass through the nerve. Once the target nerve has been located, a heat lesion is created on the nerve before moving onto the next affected nerve. This process may briefly cause patients to feel pain. The entire procedure lasts for approximately 30 to 90 minutes depending on the number of affected nerves.
You will need someone to drive you home following your procedure. After the procedure, you’ll be placed in an observation room if you received sedation. If not, you’ll be permitted to return home following the conclusion of the procedure. You may experience a burning sensation, hypersensitivity to touch, or numbness at the injection site. This is normal and will dissipate within a few days. You can use an ice pack to help reduce these sensations.
Your doctor will discuss when it’s safe for you to return to normal activities and your normal medication schedule. The duration of pain relief provided by this treatment varies by patient. Some experience one to three weeks’ worth of pain relief while others experience more long-term relief.
While this procedure is safe and low-risk, there is a rare chance for risks. Your doctor has decided the benefits of this procedure outweigh the risks. Risks or complications for this procedure include:
Excessive, abnormal skin sensitivity at the injection site
Bleeding, infection, or bruising at the injection site