Radiofrequency neurotomy (ablation) is a minimally invasive procedure that can be performed to decrease facet joint-related pain in the back, neck and thoracic spine. The facet joints are found at each segment of the spine in sets of two, and play an essential role in the body’s stability and motion, allowing the spine to twist, flex and bend. Radiofrequency is also used to treat sacroiliac (SI) joint pain caused by arthritis, injury or other degenerative changes.
The facet joints are prone to wear and tear from both injury and the natural effects of aging over time. Factors like arthritis, back injury and mechanical stress can cause the facet joints to become inflamed and quite painful.
How Does Radiofrequency Treat Facet Joint Pain?
Radiofrequency works to reduce or eliminate pain by interrupting the sensory nerve that supplies the facet joint via a process known as thermal denervation. Essentially, radiofrequency ablation employs radio waves to create an electric current in a very precise area at a specific temperature. This controlled heat incapacitates the nerve(s) responsible for sending pain signals to the brain.
How is Radiofrequency Ablation Performed?
Prior to inserting the radiofrequency probe, the treatment site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution and a numbing agent is injected into the skin. Once the numbing medicine has taken effect, the nerve is targeted using a special radiofrequency cannula needle, through which a tiny electrode is delivered. This process is guided by live X-ray technology known as fluoroscopy.
Using electrical stimulation, your doctor will verify that the needle is properly positioned at the correct nerve to lesion. Once this has been confirmed, heat will then be delivered to the nerve via the electrode, generating localized heat energy that creates a lesion on the nerve. This process effectively impairs the nerve’s ability to transmit further signals about facet joint pain.
Pulsed radiofrequency uses a different technique than conventional radiofrequency ablation. These two methods are similar, except that pulsed radiofrequency waves are delivered at a lower temperature by applying energy to the electrode intermittently. Rather than destroying the nerve tissue, pulsed radiofrequency stuns the nerve in order to stop pain transmission.
Pulsed radiofrequency is a relatively new procedure, but is thought to be safer than continuous radiofrequency. While pulsed radiofrequency can be as effective as conventional radiofrequency ablation, the relief generally does not last as long. The procedure may be repeated if the pain returns.
Learn More about Radiofrequency Ablation and Pulsed Radiofrequency
If you suffer from chronic back or neck pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis or another condition, then radiofrequency ablation or pulsed radiofrequency may be an appropriate treatment for you. Call (512) 981-7246 today to schedule an appointment with an Austin pain management physician, Dr. Robert S. Marks or Dr. Sauman A. Rafii.