What is Radiofrequency?
Radiofrequency procedures are used to treat chronic pain that does not respond to other treatment methods. This process uses heat to destroy sensory nerve endings that are the source of the pain you are experiencing. As a result, pain will no longer be transmitted by those nerves. Most people experience pain relief within a week after having the procedure performed.
Radiofrequency ablation usually provides long-term pain relief. However, in some cases, the nerves in the area may regenerate over time. When this happens, the procedure will need to be repeated. A successful procedure can provide pain relief for two years or more.
How Are Radiofrequency Procedures Performed?
Before a radiofrequency ablation is performed, the source of your pain will be confirmed using a nerve block. During a nerve block procedure, an anesthetic is injected into the area of the nerve that is believed to be causing your pain. If you experience relief, the right nerve has been identified.
The radiofrequency procedure itself takes about 30 to 60 minutes. It is performed on an outpatient basis. The area where the procedure will be performed is numbed with a local anesthetic. Then a small needle is inserted. Once the needle is in place, a small current is set through it to ensure that it is in the correct place. The right nerve placement is found using X-ray guidance. Once proper placement has been confirmed, an electrical current that produces radio waves is sent through the needle. These radio waves heat up the nerve ending for about 90 seconds. As a result, the targeted nerve is destroyed. People describe the sensation of the electrical current as a tingling sensation or one similar to hitting your funny bone.
You may experience some discomfort around the needle placement site after your procedure. This usually subsides within two to three days. Some people experience burning or numbness in the area. This side effect usually only lasts for a couple of weeks. If you are feeling pain or tenderness near the treatment site, an ice pack can help. It is recommended that you rest the day of your procedure. Most people can go back to their normal activities the next day.
Conditions Related to Radiofrequency
A number of conditions that cause chronic pain can be effectively treated with radiofrequency. These include:
- Coccydynia – A painful condition that affects the tailbone.
- Facet joint pain – Pain in the small joints around your vertebrae.
- Arthritis – Radiofrequency therapy can be used to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis arthritis.
- Discogenic pain – Pain that originates from the spinal discs.
- Postsurgical pain syndrome – When a surgery either fails to correct pain or introduces pain through nerve damage, radiofrequency can provide relief.
To be considered a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation, your pain must respond to diagnostic injections. This allows your doctor to target the nerves that are causing your pain.
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