A cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is a minimally invasive procedure that helps eliminate or reduce pain originating from damaged facet joints. Facet joints are small joints found at each segment of the spine in sets of two, with one joint on the right and left sides of each vertebra. They play an important role in stability and motion of the body, enabling the spine to bend, twist and flex.
Facet joints are prone to “wear and tear” over the years that can lead to problematic conditions including:
- Bone spurs
- Enlarged joints
The cervical facet joints are also susceptible to trauma by hyperextension injuries. Facet joint pain, commonly referred to as facet joint syndrome, occurs when the cartilage lining the facet joints along the spine begins to degenerate. This can cause the bones to rub directly against one another, resulting in back or neck pain.
Identifying Cervical Facet Joint Pain
Diagnostic medial branch blocks are often used to identify whether or not your symptoms are caused by the facet joints. Each facet joint is connected to two very small nerve branches that are responsible for the transmission of pain signals to the brain. During a medial branch block procedure, your physician will inject a small amount of local anesthetic onto the nerve(s) suspected to be the origin of pain. The numbing agent disrupts the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain, essentially “turning off” the targeted nerve. If you experience a significant reduction of painful symptoms during this time, then it is likely that the location of the pain source has been established.
Treating Cervical Facet Joint Pain
If your pain symptoms are temporarily improved by injections, then cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy may be recommended for further treatment. This procedure uses heat to create a lesion (damaged area) on the nerve that is responsible for transmitting the pain signals. This impairs the nerves ability to send signals about facet joint pain, providing the patient with significant relief.
How is a Cervical Radiofrequency Neurotomy Performed?
Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is a simple outpatient procedure. Before treatment, you will be given relaxation medicine so that you are sedated but awake during the procedure. You will lie face down on a table and the back of your neck will be sterilized and numbed with a local anesthetic. Using a live x-ray device (fluoroscopy) Dr. Marks or Dr. Rafii will carefully guide a needle-like tube (cannula) to the targeted nerve. A tiny electrode is inserted through the cannula. To ensure that the tip of the needle is properly placed, a very mild electrical current will first be delivered. This will stimulate the nerve, briefly conducting pain signals and causing a muscle to twitch. Once proper needle placement is verified, a numbing agent is delivered to the nerve in preparation for treatment. Once the anesthetic has taken effect, heat will then be delivered via the electrode to the nerve. This localized heat energy creates a lesion on the targeted nerve, interrupting pain signals so that pain perception by the brain is decreased.
After the procedure is completed, a bandage will be placed over the injection site. You will be monitored by our staff for a short period of time before being discharged home with after-care instructions. You may feel some soreness at the injection site over the next couple days. Most patients are able to return to work the next day. It may take several weeks before you feel full pain relief from the procedure, however this varies from patient to patient. You will be asked to monitor your pain during this time to help Dr. Marks or Dr. Rafii determine what, if any, further steps need to be taken.
Schedule an Appointment at the Diagnostic Pain Center in Austin
If you have been experiencing symptoms involving pain, numbness or tingling in the areas ranging from the head to the shoulder blades, then you may be a candidate for this procedure. Scheduling an evaluation with a pain management physician is the best way to determine if your pain is caused by cervical facet joints. Call (512) 981-7246 today to schedule an appointment with our Austin pain management providers. You may also request an appointment online – simply click on the button below and fill out our online appointment request form.