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 done on the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral spine. RFA can also be done on peripheral nerves to treat conditions like chronic knee pain.
Which Conditions Are Treated With Radiofrequency Ablation?
RFA can be used to help patients with chronic (long-lasting) low-back and neck pain and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis.
How Long Does Pain Relief From Radiofrequency Ablation Last?
The degree of pain relief varies, depending on the cause and location of the pain. Pain relief from RFA can last from six to 12 months and in some cases, relief can last for years. More than 70% of patients treated with RFA experience pain relief.
Is Radiofrequency Ablation Safe?
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.
What Are the Side Effects of Radiofrequency Ablation?
The main side effect of RFA is some discomfort, including swelling and bruising at the site of the treatment, but this generally goes away after a few days.
Who Should Not Get Radiofrequency Ablation?
As with any medical procedure, RFA is not appropriate for everyone. For example, radiofrequency ablation is not recommended for people who have active infections or bleeding problems. Your doctor can tell you if you should not have RFA.
How Do I Prepare for Radiofrequency Ablation?
To prepare for radiofrequency 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 of insulin 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.
What Happens During Radiofrequency Ablation?
You will meet with a doctor for an evaluation. If radiofrequency ablation is recommended, a doctor will explain the procedure in detail, including possible complications and side effects.
The doctor will also answer any questions you may have.
You will be awake during the process to aid in properly assessing the procedure.