Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

Back and neck pain are among the most common physical complaints people have. Nearly everyone will experience back pain at some point in his or her life, and as we age, the risk of having spinal problems increases. This is largely due to degenerative conditions associated with aging such as simple “wear and tear” on the body.

One of the most common sources of pain, especially among older adults, is osteoarthritis, which frequently affects the back and neck. In fact, up to 85 percent of adults over the age of 60 suffer from a condition known as cervical spondylosis, a result of neck arthritis.

As with most physical conditions, neck and back pain are frequently treated first with conservative, non-invasive, non-surgical methods. If a condition does not respond to non-invasive methods, there are other types of minimally invasive treatments which may offer relief without the need for surgery, or in cases where surgery is not recommended. One of the most commonly used types of minimally-invasive treatments of spondylosis or neck or back pain is an injection treatment called radiofrequency ablation, or RFA.

What is Radiofrequency Ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation has a number of uses in the medical field, but it is frequently utilized to relieve the pain associated with osteoarthritis of the neck or back. It may also be utilized in other painful spinal conditions.

If a patient visits a doctor complaining of neck or back pain, and he or she is diagnosed with spondylosis, or arthritis of the back, the doctor will typically order a treatment plan that is somewhat conservative: using acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs, ordering physical therapy, and/or prescribing muscle relaxers.

For some patients, the conservative route is sufficient to end the pain and restore function and mobility. For others, this type of treatment plan offers little to no relief.

The next step in the care process often involves steroid injections, such as a facet block injection or an epidural steroid injection. These steroid injections typically offer greater relief, but sometimes, the results are relatively short-lived. Radiofrequency ablation, which damages the affected nerves to block the pain signal, may offer longer-lasting relief of neck or back pain from spondylosis or other conditions.

How This Procedure is Performed

Radiofrequency ablation is minimally invasive, conducted through an injection rather than laparoscopic or open surgery. If a patient has chronic pain, the physician may determine that RFA is the best remedy for long lasting pain relief.

During the procedure, the doctor will use x-ray guidance to direct a special needle to carry electrical current into the affected nerve or nerves. The physician will typically inject anesthetic into the nerves (medial branch block) to relieve pain.

Once the nerves are numbed, the doctor uses the radiofrequency current in the needle to damage and destroy the affected nerves, more permanently interrupting the pain signal from the brain. In general, patients will experience some superficial pain or numbness around the area for a couple of weeks, but once the damaged nerves completely “die,” the patient should have significant pain relief.

Consulting With a Doctor

If conservative treatment has not been effective for treating your chronic neck or back pain, the doctors at Trinity Spine can talk to you about the risks and benefits of radiofrequency ablation to find out if RFA is right for you.