Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat pain in the spine. It is a safe and effective technique in which heat is used to disable the nerves in your spine that transfer pain signals to your brain. Radiofrequency ablation is most commonly used to treat pain caused by arthritic joints in the spine, though it is effective in treating other conditions.
Studies show that more than 70% of patients treated with RFA experience relief—lasting anywhere from six to 12 months, and in some cases, years.
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How does RFA work?
RFA is a simple, minimally invasive outpatient procedure. Your pain management specialist targets pain-causing nerves and uses thermal energy to interrupt the pain signals at their source. Local anesthesia and a mild sedative may be used to reduce discomfort during the procedure.
Target the Nerve
X-ray or ultrasound imaging helps guide a special probe to the target nerve. Electrodes stimulate nerves near the area to help determine the optimal treatment locations.
Disable the Nerve
The electrodes then send a small radiofrequency current into the surrounding tissue. This heats the tissue and disables the nerve so it stops sending pain signals.
Repeat for Multiple Pain Areas
Generally, one to four nerves are targeted in one procedure to maximize pain relief.
Download our printable information sheet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Radiofrequency ablation is a viable alternative to invasive surgery and extended use of pain medications. Your doctor may recommend this procedure if other treatment options have been unsuccessful in reducing your pain. Because radiofrequency ablation disables the nerves, the effects last longer than injections or blocks. If the nerves become active again, they are likely to cause less pain than before.
Upon arrival, you will meet with one of healthcare professionals to discuss your medical history and to ask any questions you may have about the procedure.
You may receive IV sedation to help relax you. Once the area is sterilized, your doctor uses a specialized needle to apply heat directly to the nerves in your spine.
Following the procedure, you will likely have minimal effects. However, you may experience a temporary increase in pain (neuralgia) at the procedure site. This side effect usually resolves itself, and can be managed with rest, ice packs and pain medication. Be sure to follow discharge instructions and contact your doctor if the pain continues or new symptoms arise.
You will likely experience significant pain relief within two weeks following the procedure. The effects may last for several months.
Yes. Radiofrequency ablation is a well-established drug-free treatment that has been clinically proven to provide safe, effective, lasting relief from your chronic pain.
Some insurance plans will cover radiofrequency ablation. Speak with your doctor and insurance carrier to verify.
Studies show that more than 70% of RFA patients experience relief lasting anywhere from six to 12 months, and in some cases, years.
The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis. Most patients are allowed to return home with few restrictions as soon as the effects of the local anesthesia dissipate.
Your pain could return if the treated nerves regenerate. If this happens, the procedure can be repeated.
If your pain returns due to nerve regeneration and you choose not to undergo Radiofrequency Ablation again, you should be able to try another pain management method. Be sure to discuss this decision with your doctor first.