Radiofrequency ablation is a non-surgical medical procedure that is used to manage pain in many chronic conditions.
Radiofrequency ablation involves the use of radiofrequency waves which are applied to the affected area. These waves heat up the nerves in the area until they are effectively ablated. This stops the nerves from being able to communicate pain signals back to the brain through the nervous system.
Uses of Radiofrequency Ablation
Generally speaking, radiofrequency ablation is used to treat pain. The applicability of this procedure isn’t limited to one specific ailment or injury. However, it is usually only recommended for patients whose pain is chronic and not well-controlled through alternative measures. One of the most common ailments for which people receive this treatment is arthritis. Patients with chronic pain from spinal conditions, fibromyalgia, or similar chronic conditions also frequently benefit from radiofrequency ablation.
Who Is A Candidate?
Since this procedure is non-surgical and only minimally invasive, most people who want to try this method for chronic pain relief will be candidates. Before recommending this procedure, the physician will likely determine the patient’s candidacy by first giving them a nerve block injection. These work in a similar manner on the nerves but are more temporary. If the patient does experience pain relief from the nerve block, they are more likely to experience relief from the radiofrequency ablation. The physician will also consider the patient’s overall health to determine if they are healthy enough for this procedure. The main reason that an individual would be excluded from receiving this treatment would be because they have a conflict with the x-ray machine. This could be because of pregnancy or other conditions.
What To Expect
Prior to the procedure, the physician should provide information to the patient about what medications to continue or halt, as well as general guidelines about diet. On the day of the procedure, the patient will be asked to lie in a specific position that is dependent on the area of treatment on an x-ray table. The treatment area will be sterilized and a local anesthesia applied. Some physicians will also give the patient a light sedative to help ease them through the procedure with as little discomfort as possible. However, the patient is not typically entirely put out. Then, using a specialized x-ray machine, called a fluoroscope, the physician will place a hollow needle in the treatment area. The fluoroscope allows them to see that the needle is in the right location. A numbing medication is then administered to the area before the radiofrequency ablation begins. The waves will be applied directly to the affected nerve for about 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for this process to be repeated on several nerves during one procedure.
What Is The Recovery Process?
This procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, meaning that most people will get to go home after only a short recovery time. However, since this procedure directly involves the nervous system, the patient will not be permitted to drive home alone. Most patients can return to work within three days and feel pain relief in just over a week.