Radiofrequency ablation is used to treat problems with the facet joints in the spine. Facet joints connect individual vertebra and allow them to move within a limited range of motion. When these facet joints are damaged or irritated, severe low back and neck pain is often the result. Issues with the facet joints, referred to as facet joint syndrome, can be caused by accidents and injuries as well as scoliosis, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other diseases of the bones and joints.
When facet joints are inflamed, they transmit pain signals through the spine’s medial branch nerves. Radiofrequency ablation is generally used after a temporary numbing of the medial branch nerves. If the numbing treatment successfully lowers the patient’s pain levels, radiofrequency ablation is used to disable the nerves for a longer period of time. During the procedure, X-ray images allow the surgeon to insert a needle near the medial nerves. An electrical current is used to heat the end of the needle and damage the nerves to prevent the transmission of pain signals.
After undergoing radiofrequency ablation treatment, the patient will be observed for a short period of time and then discharged. The patient will need a ride home and should not drive or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day. Some patients are able to return to work the next day, and normal activity is generally possible after a 24-hour period of rest. Exposing the wound to water can lead to complications, and the patient should avoid showering and bathing for at least 48 hours. Icing the area can help to reduce swelling and pain, and the doctor may prescribe pain medications. Back and neck pain may increase slightly directly after radiofrequency ablation, but it should begin to subside within a week or two.
Benefits Of The Treatment
By getting rid of the nerves that transmit pain signals, radiofrequency ablation can substantially reduce neck and low back pain. Pain relief usually lasts for at least three months, and the typical range is six to nine months. In some cases, pain may be reduced or eliminated for many years. The problematic nerves will eventually grow back, but they may be less capable of causing pain. If the pain returns, the problem can be corrected through an additional radiofrequency ablation treatment. If low back pain was previously severe enough to interfere with the spine’s range of motion, the patient should enjoy a greater degree of mobility after the procedure.
Radiofrequency has a high success rate and a low rate of morbidity, but it has the potential to lead to a few rare complications. The most common side effect is bruising and swelling around the treatment area. Muscles and other tissue may be burned in some cases by the electrical current. Some patients may experience tingling or numbness in the legs and should avoid standing or walking without assistance.