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Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Back or Neck Pain

Your Nerves and Pain

In most cases, a nerve is a good thing. Nerves exit the spinal column and branch out, helping you to sense when an item is too hot or cold or help to stimulate muscle movement.

Unfortunately, nerves are just like other parts of your body in that they can become injured or damaged. When you experience back and/or neck pain, your nerves may be transmitting painful signals to your brain. Examples of nerve- and spinal-related conditions that cause back and neck pain include:

  • Lumbar disc herniation
  • Cervical degenerative disc disease
  • Cervical osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Foraminal stenosis
  • Isthemic spondylolisthesis
  • Stenosis with myelopathy

 

If you experience chronic lower back and/or neck pain, your pain management specialist may recommend radiofrequency ablation.

About Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency is a form of energy that travels at a very high frequency—about the speed of light. Your miVIP Surgery Centers surgeon uses a special tool that generates this high radiofrequency to target nerves in your cervical (around the neck) or lumbar (around the lower back) spine to reduce pain. You may be a good candidate for this procedure if you:

  • Experience chronic neck or back pain
  • Have tried epidural steroid injections, facet joint infections, sympathetic nerve blocks or other nerve block forms and continue to experience pain
  • Desire a longer solution to pain relief than injections provide

 

Examples of conditions potentially relieved by radiofrequency ablation include:

  • Spinal arthritis
  • Pain from whiplash
  • Post-spine surgery pain
  • Other spine-related pain

The Procedure

To perform radiofrequency ablation, your physician must target the specific nerve causing pain. Your physician will use video x-ray guidance, known as fluoroscopy, to target the offending nerve, placing a needle next to it. After testing the needle for placement, your physician will send a radiofrequency electric current via the needle for a period of about 90 seconds. While the current generates heat, you should not feel heat or pain during the procedure. This current will help to deaden the nerve and relieve pain. Your physician will use a local anesthetic to numb the area through which the needle is inserted to minimize pain and discomfort. If needed, your physician also can give intravenous medications to help relax you during the procedure.

If you do choose to have the sedation during the procedure, arrange for a person to drive you home after your physician has released you. Your physician may instruct you to apply an ice pack to the targeted area to reduce swelling and pain. You also may experience some leg numbness due to the local anesthetic, but this should wear off after a few hours. Many patients return to work or school the next day following the procedure.

Radiofrequency Ablation Results

Radiofrequency ablation’s success often depends upon your unique medical condition and how well your nerves are able to heal. Many patients may experience worsening pain the first few days after radiofrequency ablation and then find relief.

An estimated 70 percent of patients experience pain relief following radiofrequency ablation. Of these patients, some will find pain relief for about six months while others may experience years of pain relief. The pain can return as the nerves regenerate over time, but the procedure can be repeated.

Your miVIP Surgery Centers physician will work with you to determine the best approach for pain management given your overall medical history and current physical condition. Always tell your physician if you have an active infection or bleeding problem before undergoing radiofrequency ablation.

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