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Radiofrequency ablation (also called radiofrequency neurotomy) is a minimally invasive, non-surgical procedure to help relieve pain originating in the facet joints of your neck or back. Each bone in your spine is connected by two facet joints on each side. The facet joints allow your spine to bend and rotate. Sometimes these joints can deteriorate and become inflamed. This inflammation can irritate the facet nerves and surrounding tissues, causing pain.
What is radiofrequency ablation?
During a radiofrequency ablation procedure, the facet nerves are ablated (burned) using heat generated by radio waves. This breaks up the pain signal from these nerves, providing relief.
Two test procedures, called diagnostic work-up injections, are required prior to performing the radiofrequency ablation procedure to help determine if it is appropriate for you. These injections will need to be completed on separate days.
What can I expect during the procedure?
You will receive sedation through an IV prior to the procedure. A nurse will bring you into the procedure room and lay you on your stomach on a special table. Our staff will clean your skin at the injection sites and apply a local anesthetic to numb your skin.
A fluoroscope (x-ray machine) will visualize a special, hollow needle(s) as the physician guides it to the appropriate site for the procedure. Once the needle is in place, an anesthetic is injected by the nerve to numb it. Using a special machine, a radiofrequency current is passed through the needles, applying heat directly onto the nerve. This heat destroys the nerve ending, interrupting pain signals.
What can I expect after the procedure?
You will be moved into the recovery area and monitored by a nurse for about 60 minutes. You will need a driver to take you home upon discharge.
We suggest you take it easy for the remainder of the day. You may then resume normal activities the next day. You may experience tenderness or aggravated symptoms for several days after the injection. Apply ice packs to help with this pain.
Some patients may require pain medication for 2 to 3 days after the procedure to help with post-procedure pain. Your provider will discuss this with you. It may take up to 4-6 weeks to notice benefit from the procedure.
Facet nerves eventually grow back, so the effects of this procedure are usually not permanent. You may get pain relief for one to two years. If you receive at least six months of pain relief, you may repeat the procedure if appropriate.
Schedule an appointment with a Twin Cities Pain Clinic provider to discuss if radiofrequency ablation can help with your pain.
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