Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a medical procedure that uses an electric current to heat up a small area of nerve tissue to prevent the transmission of pain signals. The treatment could provide lasting relief for patients with chronic pain in the lower back, neck, and arthritic joints.
Conditions Treated by Radiofrequency Ablation
RFA may help treat the following chronic pain conditions:
- Arthritis of the spine
- Sacroiliac joint inflammation
- Facet joint inflammation
- Neck, back, knee, and peripheral nerve pain
Who is a Candidate For Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation may be right for patients with chronic pain that has not responded to other treatment, such as pain medication and physical therapy.
The procedure is not recommended for patients with an active infection, allergies to local anesthetics, or bleeding disorders.
How to Prepare for Radiofrequency Ablation
Patients should wear comfortable clothes that are easy to remove and put on. They should avoid wearing jewelry or body piercings, as metal may interfere with RFA’s electric currents.
Patients will be advised not to eat within six hours of the procedure. However, clear liquids may be consumed up until two hours before the appointment. The healthcare provider will provide patients with detailed instructions on what time they can stop and resume eating and drinking normally.
Patients will need to provide their physician with a list of all medications they are currently taking. Medications that aren’t daily or essential may need to be paused until after the procedure.
On the day of the procedure, patients should bring their photo ID, health insurance card, and any other necessary paperwork. They will also need to make arrangements for someone to drive them home after the procedure. The sedative medication administered during RFA will make the patient feel drowsy.
What to Expect During The Procedure
Patients can expect the following during radiofrequency ablation treatment:
An intravenous medication will be given to relax the patient.
The patient will lie on their stomach or back on an X-ray table.
The doctor will numb the treatment area with a local anesthetic.
Then, the physician will use X-ray guidance to insert a thin needle into the painful area.
A microelectrode will be inserted through the needle and the doctor will ask the patient if they feel a tingling sensation. This will help the doctor identify the right treatment area.
A small radiofrequency current will be sent through the electrode to heat the nerve tissue.
After the procedure, the patient is free to go home.
Risks of Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation is very safe, with low risk of complications. Adverse effects, such as infection and bleeding at the incision site and nerve damage, are uncommon.
Temporary side effects of radiofrequency ablation can include:
Weakness or numbness in the legs
Swelling and bruising at the incision site
After The Procedure
Patients can resume their regular diet and medications immediately, but should avoid driving or engaging in any rigorous activity for 24 hours after the procedure.
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