Let’s Talk RFA
For patients suffering from chronic pain, a doctor may recommend radiofrequency ablation (RFA). The RFA procedure stops pain by destroying the nerve endings that send pain signals to the brain. A surgeon, radiologist, or pain specialist uses x-ray guidance to place a needle near the painful nerves. Radiofrequency waves then pass through the needle to burn and destroy nerve endings. Once the nerve endings are destroyed, pain signals can no longer go to the brain.
Which conditions does RFA treat?
A pain specialist will use RFA primarily for problems with the spine. Most cases involve lower back pain, a condition that 80% of the world’s population will experience. Doctors regularly recommend cervical facet RFA for neck pain due to injury, muscle strains, or poor posture. RFA is not the first line of defense for pain. The treatment works well for patients who try other conservative methods without success. Burning through nerves sounds painful, and many patients are concerned if the procedure would be uncomfortable. Fortunately, the doctor will take steps to mitigate the pain.
Wide awake but pain-free
The RFA procedure lasts for about 45 minutes. The patient lies on an x-ray table to start the procedure, and a local anesthetic numbs the area. The pain specialist uses fluoroscopy, an x-ray technique that gives a real-time view of the painful area. With fluoroscopy, the patient stays awake to help confirm the needle is in the correct location. Once the needle is set, the nerve endings are seared off using the radiofrequency current. Because of the local anesthetic, there should be no pain at the injection site, but RFA can hurt after the procedure.
Will I feel pain after the procedure?
Right after radiofrequency ablation, patients do begin to feel some discomfort. There will be some slight burning and numbness at the injection site as the anesthetic begins to wear off. The pain is often compared to sunburn in the treated area. Even though these side effects are not severe, the pain can be difficult and can last for a few weeks. Remember, the nerves are slightly injured and have lost some function. Manage the pain with rest, ice packs, or oral medications.
After RFA, there are a few steps that can help with recovery. Make sure to avoid driving or using heavy machinery for no less than 24 hours after the process. Patients should also avoid physical activity for 24 hours and baths for at least 2 days after the procedure. Proper rest, ice packs, and the occasional over-the-counter pain reliever help with a smooth recovery. RFA should last at least 6-9 months, with some cases going as long as 2 years.
Enjoy a pain-free life with RFA
Radiofrequency ablation can help address chronic back and neck pain. The procedure destroys nerve endings to prevent signals from going to the brain. While RFA sounds complicated, the patient is awake during the process with no pain. Pain will come after the procedure, so proper pain management is vital until RFA takes effect. If chronic nerve pain impacts the quality of life, speak with a doctor or pain specialist about RFA.