Pain signals delivered by nerves are oftentimes a warning from our body that it needs help. Unfortunately, there can be conditions or situations where nerves are sending inaccurate signals or the pain signals that are being sent are reducing your quality of life.
Pain management doctors may recommend rhizotomy (also known as ablation or neurotomy) if you have certain types of chronic pain.
This procedure is typically recommended for patients who suffer from chronic back pain after more conservative pain management methods have failed. If you have certain medical conditions, such as an infection or are pregnant, a rhizotomy may not be the best choice for you.
What Is Rhizotomy?
Rhizotomy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that can offer near immediate relief from pain. The procedure essentially entails surgically severing the nerve fibers responsible for sending the problematic pain signals to the brain.
Nerve fibers send electrical signals through the body to the brain where the electrical signals are interpreted. The pain reduction benefit of a rhizotomy procedure lasts until the nerve heals/grows back.
The procedure can be performed three separate ways, but the objective behind all three methods is the same.
Types of Rhizotomy
Glycerin/Glycerol Rhizotomy: This type of rhizotomy uses chemicals to sever painful nerve fibers. During this procedure, a surgeon will use a needle to deliver a small amount of glycerin or glycerol to the affected nerves. The chemical destroys the pain fibers in the nerve over the course of 45 to 60 minutes. If Glycerol rhizotomy does not provide complete relief a second type of rhizotomy, radiofrequency rhizotomy, might be recommended.
Radiofrequency Rhizotomy: During radiofrequency rhizotomy, nerve fibers are burned by a radiofrequency current. You can expect to feel the benefits of radiofrequency rhizotomy two to three weeks after the procedure is performed. Temporary relief immediately after the procedure may fade as the local anesthetic wears off a few hours after the procedure. Patients sometimes experience a temporary worsening of pain for a few days after the procedure.
Endoscopic Rhizotomy/Direct Visualized Rhizotomy: Endoscopic rhizotomy is performed by inserting an endoscope (a miniaturized camera) into the body via a small incision. The endoscope provides direct visualization for the surgeon and is used to bypass healthy organs to locate the pain causing nerve and sever it. It can take more than two weeks for pain relief benefits to manifest after an endoscopic rhizotomy.
What can Rhizotomy Treat?
Rhizotomy may be recommended to treat:
- Pain caused by arthritis in the joints. These joints can be in the knees, hips, back and neck.
- Cervical (upper spine) and lumbar (lower spine) pain caused by herniated discs, spinal stenosis and other degenerative spinal conditions.
- Facial pain that results from irritation of the trigeminal nerve.
Recovery After Rhizotomy
Patients who have undergone rhizotomy may benefit from one to two days of rest before returning to work. It might take several weeks before the full effects of rhizotomy are felt.
Pain relief is achieved incrementally after the procedure. It is common to experience temporary pain, swelling or bruising at the site of the rhizotomy procedure.
There are different risk factors depending on the type of rhizotomy performed and where the procedure was targeted. Glycerin/glycerol rhizotomy is more likely to be accompanied by nausea, infection and numbness. Radiofrequency rhizotomy is more likely to result in sensory change/numbness.
Rhizotomy is not always 100 percent or permanently effective, but cases where patients experience no improvement in their pain symptoms following rhizotomy are rare.
How to Know if Rhizotomy Is Right for You
Rhizotomy is an effective and minimally invasive surgical procedure that can alleviate chronic pain for an extended period. If you suffer from chronic low back pain or any of the other conditions mentioned above, and more conservative methods of pain alleviation have not been successful, you may be a good candidate for rhizotomy.
Our highly trained team would be happy to explain the benefits of rhizotomy and whether it’s a potential option for you. Contact us at 770-997-0600 to schedule an appointment.