Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure
What is Radiofrequency Ablation (or RFA)?
RFA is a treatment used to deal with neck or back pain caused at a certain area of the spine called the facet joints. The procedure involves finding out the exact location causing you pain so the radiofrequency ablation can treat the area. Radiofrequency Ablation uses heat generated from a medium frequency radio waves to ablate nerves causing pain, which eliminates the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
Am I a Candidate for Radiofrequency Ablation?
You may be a candidate for a Radiofrequency Ablation if you have injury or arthritis in your spinal joints. Checking if you’re a candidate for RFA is a three part process that involves two tests to be performed to see if you are indeed a candidate. The tests are called Medial Branch Blocks or MBB for short. If you respond favorably to the MBB’s then you are a candidate for the Radiofrequency ablation treatment.
How long does it take for Radiofrequency Ablation to work?
Radiofrequency ablation surgery may not immediately bring pain relief. For some people the pain relieving effects of the nerve ablation will begin at the 10 day mark. For others, it can take two to three weeks for any noticeable sign of relief. For this reason your doctor may schedule a follow-up exam 3 weeks after the surgery to check how the procedure is working. The success rate of an RFA procedure is about 70% for pain relief, and helps people who have neck pain, lower back pain, and spinal pain.
What to Expect After Radiofrequency Ablation
You can expect some soreness or pain near the injection sites for a few days. Strenuous activities should be avoided for a couple days at least, but most people can resume normal work activities in two to three days. As said earlier, it may take up to 3 weeks for the ablated nerve to stop causing pain completely, and if the pain is too much then analgesics can be prescribed in the mean time.
Radiofrequency Ablation Side Effects
Right after the surgery you may experience burning or hypersensitivity at the injection site as a side effect. Numbness or tingling may also be experienced at the injection site. It can feel like sunburn, and can last for a few days or weeks, but can be treated with rest and some ice packs over the effected area. These symptoms are less common in the lower and mid back, but are more common in the higher levels of the neck.
What if Radiofrequency Ablation Doesn’t Work?
Nerves can regenerate after the RFA procedure and start causing pain again. If this happens, the radiofrequency ablation can be repeated, and if the repeated operation comes up with the same results, a surgical intervention might be considered by your doctor. Between 30% and 50% of patients usually see significant pain reduction for atleast a two year period, but about 50% will only get that pain relief in a short period. However, some patients may not have any pain relief from a radiofrequency ablation at all, in which case surgery or other treatment options should be looked at.
If you have worse pain after Radiofrequency Ablation
Since RFA is using radiofrequency to stop signals from coming from your nerves you may experience slightly increased pain for a few days after the surgery, since the nerves are irritated. That is one of the normal side effects in a few patients and decreases after that first few days.If the pain doesn’t subside after the 3 week mark, you can attempt to repeat the procedure, as some people do. Or if the RFA relieves some of the pain, but there is still pain present you can couple it with other pain management techniques.
Radiofrequency Ablation Recovery Time
Because RFA is an outpatient procedure you can return home the same day it happens. You’re going to want to keep the area dry, but you can take a shower the following day and remove the bandages at that time. You can resume all normal activity in as little as 3 days, but you may not feel the full pain relief until after 2 weeks. Physical therapy is a great pursuit to help increase strength and gradual physical activity tolerance.