Radiofrequency ablation, also known as rhizotomy, has become an important way to manage and treat pain. These procedures are quick and simple and are generally well-tolerated by the patient. They can provide relief lasting anywhere from 6 to 12 months, and in some cases will provide pain relief for years. Dr. Nikesh Seth, an anesthesiologist and pain management physician, explains the process of radiofrequency ablation and explores the different conditions that can be helped with the procedure.
What is Radiofrequency Ablation?
In radiofrequency ablation, a small electrical current which is produced by radio waves heats a small area of the nervous system. Heating the nerves destroys them, which provides relief from pain in that area.
This procedure can be very helpful for arthritis and other kinds of joint pain. It is especially effective for axial spine pain, including low back pain and neck pain.
To prepare for the procedure, patients should stop taking aspirin or blood thinner medications a few days beforehand. This should be discussed with the doctor who wrote the prescription and the doctor who is treating you for your ablation.
The patient is placed on an X-ray table. X-rays give the doctor a precise view of the nerves which will be affected by the procedure. The doctor will administer a local anesthetic to the area. The patient may also receive a low dose of a sedative like Versed or Valium to increase their comfort level with the procedure. The patient does not need to stay awake during the procedure as the doctor’s use fluoroscopic guidance and motor simulation to ensure proper safety and placement of the needles before doing an ablation.
A hollow, thin needle is threaded into an incision near the patient’s pain site. This hollow needle can be guided by the X-ray image. When the needle is in place, a radiofrequency current is put through the needle and into the affected nerves. This procedure makes a small burn or a lesion on the nerve. However, this should not be painful. Most patients experience only a feeling of pressure thanks to the local anesthetic.
After the procedure, patients can move to a recovery room. They will be back to their normal activities within 24 to 72 hours after radiofrequency ablation. Most patients tolerate this treatment very well, and pain relief tends to come into effect within 10 days.
This treatment works best on patients who have already responded well to local anesthesia nerve blocks. If the nerve blocks did not work, it is possible that radiofrequency ablation will not help the patient.
Conditions Where Radiofrequency Ablation is Helpful
Radiofrequency ablation is beneficial for patients with arthritis. The wearing down of joints puts pressure on the nerves, causing a great deal of pain and discomfort. Ablation can help to reduce these nerves’ sensitivity and provide pain relief.
Axial spine pain is also a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation. Axial spine pain is not necessarily caused by an underlying condition like a herniated disc. It happens when a patient is active or sits in a sedentary position for too long, and it is relieved by a position change or rest. Axial lower back and neck pain is particularly bothersome for many patients. Frequently, these are the conditions which cause people to look into radiofrequency ablation.
Other types of conditions which can be relieved by radiofrequency ablation include pain from whiplash, previous spine surgeries, and spinal arthritis or spondylosis.
Advanced Techniques to Relieve Pain
Dr. Nikesh Seth recommends radiofrequency ablation as an advanced treatment to relieve pain from arthritis and other sources. Patients who need radiofrequency ablation have often tried other forms of pain relief without results. They are often frustrated by the process of relieving chronic pain. With radiofrequency ablation, patients can enjoy a safe, non-surgical pain relief method. Working with a pain management physician like Dr. Nikesh Seth, patients can create a treatment plan that works for them.