Radiofrequency neuroablation, also known as, radiofrequency neurotomy is a procedure used to treat pain symptoms in patients with chronic pain when other less invasive treatment options such as medication and physical therapy have not been able to provide relief. Radiofrequency neuroablation may also be used in cases when surgery is not an option. Some of the conditions treated with radiofrequency neuroablation include chronic neck and lower back pain, as well as, chronic pain in the hip joint and knee.
The procedure is used to treat chronic pain from many possible causes, including, auto and other types of accidents, various types of degeneration of the bone and even diseases caused by viruses. One example is the pain associated with whiplash, a condition that occurs due to the rapid back and forth motion of the head and is often seen as a result of car accidents, may be treated with radiofrequency neuroablation. Another condition that may require radiofrequency neuroablation to treat pain symptoms includes joint degeneration due to arthritis or other causes. In some cases, the pain from the rash caused by herpes zoster virus, more commonly known as shingles, may be treated with the procedure.
During the Procedure
Using a targeted approach during the procedure heat is applied to the nerves that are responsible for transmitting pain signals from the affected area of the body to the patients’ brain. This procedure is designed to make it more difficult for the nerves to transport the pain signals to the patients’ brain.
Because local anesthetics and sedatives may be administered during radiofrequency neuroablation, many patients require an IV to be placed on the day of the procedure. During the procedure a needle is inserted under the skin and using x-ray technology the needle is guided into the affected area. However in some cases, patients may remain awake during the procedure in order help the doctor determine the proper placement of the needle into the most affected area. Once the needle is properly positioned a microelectrode is guided through the needle into the affected area and an electrical current is sent through the microelectrode in order to heat nearby tissue.
Although patients who undergo Radiofrequency neuroablation return home the same day, they are given certain restrictions to follow for a short time following the procedure. Instructions may be given to avoid activities such as driving, bathing and strenuous activity for a certain length of time while the patient recovers.
The results of the procedure vary among patients. Symptom relief is influenced by factors such as, the location of the pain symptoms and the cause of the pain. In some cases, patients’ symptoms are alleviated for years, but more commonly, patients see a reduction in their level of pain that typically lasts between 6 months to a year after the procedure.
Side Effects and Complications
The most commonly reported side effects of radiofrequency neuroablation include edema, bruising and soreness in the area in which the procedure was performed, however, these symptoms usually resolve within a few days following the procedure. Due to the use of a local anesthetic, the patient may experience leg numbness for a few hours after radiofrequency neuroablation is performed. Some patients may experience mild back pain which usually resolve within a couple of days.
While every procedure has risks, radiofrequency neuroablation has been shown to be both a safe and effective way to treat some types of pain. Although uncommon, serious complications include infection and bleeding at the site of the needle insertion. Therefore, patients that have previously experienced bleeding issues and those that have active infections may not be advised to undergo the procedure. There is also a risk of nerve damage during the procedure, but this is also a rare seen complication.