Radiofrequency lesioning, or ablation, is a short, minimally invasive outpatient treatment that help manage pain by disrupting the pain signals being sent by nerves. It fundamentally works by using miniaturized instruments to destroy the damaged nerves that are causing your chronic pain.
In most cases your orthopaedic specialist will first attempt alternative pain management strategies, such as nerve block injections or special physical therapy. If none of these interventions help adequately manage your back pain, radiofrequency lesioning may be a better option.
The Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure
Radiofrequency lesioning is a bit more involved than a simple steroidal or regenerative medicine injection. You’ll first be administered a local anesthetic or in some cases even undergo mild sedation. Once the treatment area is adequately numb your orthopaedist will direct a special needle, known as cannula, to the medial branch nerves with pinpoint accuracy using fluoroscopic guidance.
Once the cannula is in position at the medial branch nerves, your specialist with push an electrode through the cannula and down to the nerves. They will send a small charge through the electrode to trigger your back pain. If you experience your normal back pain, your orthopaedist will know the cannula and electrode is properly placed.
At that point they essentially heat and destroy the offending nerves and tissues to prevent them from carrying those pain signals in the future. Patients may be experiencing facet joint pain at multiple spots along their spine, in which case the procedure will be repeated at each problem medial branch nerve position.
Keep in mind these nerves are very small, and the pinpoint targeting delivered by a very accurate, needle-guided electrode ensures surrounding tissue damage is virtually non-existent. All that’s required at the injection site is a small bandage.
You’ll then be asked to wait in our recovery room after your procedure for a short observation, after which you will be able to go home.
Patients may experience soreness and back pain after the procedure, but most patients who undergo radiofrequency lesioning experience a significant reduction in facet joint pain over the subsequent several weeks.
When Might My Board-Certified Orthopaedist Recommend Radiofrequency Lesioning?
We’ll frequently recommend radiofrequency lesioning or ablation to patients who have been unable to find relief for:
- Facet joint pain
- Peripheral nerve pain
- Spinal arthritis or stenosis
- Sacroiliac joint pain
- Long-term, persistent chronic back pain that’s been resistant to other treatment methods
Is Radiofrequency Lesioning Risky?
Risk of side effects related to radiofrequency lesioning is low, especially compared to many invasive orthopaedic surgical procedures. As with any injection or needle-based medical procedures there are potentials for infection, nerve pain or neuroma, but they are rare. Patients who are allergic to the sedative or numbing agent may also experience adverse effects, but those risks are not unique to radiofrequency lesioning itself.
Find Out If You’re a Candidate for Radiofrequency Lesioning
If you haven’t found back pain relief from injections, regenerative medicine or other conservative pain management strategies, contact Non-Surgical Orthopaedics. Our board-certified orthopaedic specialists would be happy to discuss your options and tell you if you are a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation. Schedule an appointment in our Mariette or Carrollton offices by calling 770-421-1420.