Back radiofrequency treatment, also known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA), treats back pain caused by arthritic facet joints by a process called “ablation.” The heat generated by a radiofrequency probe ablates – or inactivates – the nerves that supply pain sensors from the joints around the spine.
This procedure employs high-frequency energy and is an improvement over the previous use of low-frequency current or direct current pulses, as it does not electrically stimulate any nerves or the heart and therefore does not require general anesthesia.
RFA is an outpatient procedure performed with the patient awake and the area numbed with local anesthetic. Patients undergo “test” procedures with numbing of the affected nerves with local anesthetic. If these are successful, the patient is a candidate for RFA.
Radiofrequency therapy is not a cure for the underlying condition, and the problematic nerves will eventually grow back, but the procedure can provide five to eight months of back pain relief.
Are You a Candidate for Back Radiofrequency Therapy?
Particular nerves are best targeted by RFA and your doctor may perform diagnostic tests to ensure you are a good candidate. This will involve injecting small amounts of anesthetic medication into the locations where the RFA will be applied. If symptoms are relieved by this process, it’s an indication that you will benefit from back radio frequency therapy.
What to Expect with Back Radiofrequency Therapy
Back radiofrequency therapy can be performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning you will only be required to attend an outpatient clinic and will go home the same day.
In preparation for your back radiofrequency therapy:
- Inform your physician of any blood thinning medication you are currently taking.
- Arrange for someone else to drive you home. Some temporary numbness and weakness in parts of the body can occur, and you should not attempt to drive until these subside.
After your treatment is complete, you will be allowed to rest until you feel comfortable enough to go home. The procedure lasts roughly an hour.