Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive treatment option for nerve pain. This procedure is performed with a local anesthetic. The nerves targeted with this procedure include the medial branch nerves along the spinal column, the ganglion impar near the coccyx bone, and the sphenopalatine ganglion, which is in the back of the throat.
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
Neck and back pain
Before the procedure, the doctor will discuss all treatment options, go over the risks and benefits of these treatments, and have you sign a consent form if you choose the radiofrequency ablation. Because bleeding could occur, you must notify the doctor if you are taking blood-thinning agents. These will be held for a few days prior to the procedure. When you arrive at the medical center, a nurse will start an IV in your arm to administer fluids and a mild sedative. In addition, the nurse will attach a blood pressure cuff and finger monitor to you to assess vital signs.
The patient is positioned on the table face-down, with pillows to support the pelvis and abdomen. The skin over the affected region is cleansed with an antiseptic solution, and the skin is numbed with an anesthetic agent. The needle is positioned using x-ray guidance near the nerves. A small amount of electrical current is gently passed through the needle onto the nerves. The heat disrupts the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals. Once done, the needle is removed and a bandage is applied.
Once the procedure is over, the patient is moved to a recovery area for a nurse to monitor vital signs and pain. Discharge instructions are given. No bathing or showering is permitted for the rest of the day, and bedrest is recommended. The patient can gradually return to normal activities as tolerated. Ice packs to the affected site 3-4 times a day for 20-minute intervals is recommended to decrease tissue inflammation and relieve pain.
Depending on the region treated, patients often develop a superficial burning sensation with hypersensitivity (like a sunburn) over the treated area. This sensation may last for up to 2 weeks, but usually resolves in 3-5 days. This side effect is related to nerve irritation. Many patients report light numbness over the skin, as well as soreness. In addition, risks include infection, bleeding, and nerve damage, but these rarely occur.
Depending on the area being treated, full pain relief usually occurs within 2-3 weeks after the radiofrequency ablation procedure. The nerves do eventually regenerate, but the pain does not necessarily return. Some patients, however, do have recurrent pain. Based on many clinical studies, pain relief often lasts for up to two years.
Clinical research studies document the many benefits of the radiofrequency ablation procedure. These include:
Pain relief for up to two years
Low morbidity rates
Low complication rates
Improved quality of life
Greater range of motion
Short recovery time