What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) and How It Helps in Pain Relief

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is an advanced treatment method, where a radio wave heats up a small part of nerve tissue causing pain to disrupt their ability to send pain signals. RFA is used for the treatment of chronic neck pain and lower back pain, as well as severe joint pain in arthritis patients.

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) Procedure

Anesthesia is applied to the area in pain, and a needle is inserted to the source of pain with the help of X-Ray guidance (fluoroscopy). Then, a microelectrode is inserted through the needle, and a small radiofrequency current is sent through the electrode.

The current heats up the surrounding tissues, creating a heat lesion to interrupt the nerves’ ability to send pain signals, and thus reduces the pain. The entire procedure usually takes only half an hour. However, before the actual RFA procedure, a medial branch or lateral branch nerve block may be performed in order to confirm the source of pain.

You should not do any strenuous activity, drive, or operate machinery for at least 24 hours after the procedure is done. You can resume with your normal diet, but should not take a bath for two days. Additionally, patients who have had chronic pain for a very long duration might need physical therapy after the procedure to regain their physical activity tolerance safely.

Usually, patients experience complete pain relief within 3 weeks after the RFA procedure, and it is typically long lasting. The nerves will regenerate over time, but might not send strong pain signals that soon; you can even go for another Radiofrequency ablation procedure in case of recurrence of pain.

Preparation for the Procedure

You should not eat anything for at least 6 hours before the RFA procedure, but you can take clear liquids until the last two hours. Inform your doctor if you are taking insulin or any other medications, as you may have to adjust the dosage of insulin on the day of the RFA procedure. Besides that, you would also need to avoid ibuprofen, aspirin, or any blood-thinning medications like Coumadin to be prepared for the treatment.

You may experience numbness for a few hours after the procedure, which is due to the anesthesia injected on the site. If you feel any discomfort after the procedure, taking pain medications or applying an ice pack on the area would ease the discomfort. Allergies or reactions may also happen to some patients, but such instances are rare. Consult a doctor if you experience any redness, swelling, or infection.

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