Ready For Radiofrequency Ablation?

Is chronic back or neck pain affecting simple everyday tasks? More than 60 million Americans have moderate to severe back pain. When medication or physical therapy (PT) fails to bring relief, a doctor may suggest radiofrequency ablation (RFA) to treat the pain. This simple, minimally invasive procedure uses heat to destroy nerve ends or tissue. The process is relatively quick, safe, and typically takes less than 1 hour to complete. Patients undergoing RFA will be surprised to know that the procedure does not require an overnight stay at a hospital.

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What to expect during the procedure

Radiofrequency ablation uses high-frequency radio waves to heat and destroys nerve tissue. The procedure is usually performed using local anesthesia, numbing just the treated area. The doctor inserts a needle using a process called fluoroscopy. Once the needle is in place, radiofrequency waves will be passed through the needle to destroy the affected nerves with heat. Most people experience little to no discomfort during and after the operation. After a short wait, the patient can leave the same day.

Recovery at home

Although patients can leave on the same day, there is a short recovery period at home. Doctors advise that patients stay at home and rest during that time. There will be soreness and discomfort at the injection site for a few days. However, patients can typically resume regular activity within 2 days. Avoiding strenuous activity for 1 week or more after the procedure may be recommended. Plan for a follow-up visit 1-2 weeks after RFA to determine if the procedure was successful.

Potential side effects

The RFA procedure effectively alleviates pain in at least 50% of patients. However, this treatment also carries some risks. The most common side effects are temporary numbness, tingling, and bruising. There may also be a painful reaction at the injection site. Other possible side effects include skin sensitivity, muscle weakness, and infections. Let the doctor know if the pain becomes unbearable or lasts more than 2 weeks. In some cases, serious side effects may trigger the need for an overnight stay in the hospital. However, this is rare, and most patients can leave immediately.

Get treated, then leave

Radiofrequency ablation is generally considered a safe and effective treatment option with a low risk of complications. By destroying nerve endings, the treatment disrupts the pain connected to the brain. RFA is not a permanent fix but can give patients about 6-12 months of relief. Most procedures happen outpatient at a doctor’s office, surgical center, or radiologist’s office. When done correctly, the patient can leave on the same day.

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