Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a technique used to provide long-term relief for some types of chronic pain. RFA is most often used to treat back pain including pain in the lumbar, cervical, and sacroiliac areas, plus the intervertebral discs, dorsal root ganglion, and sympathetic ganglia. RFA is also used to treat headaches including trigeminal neuralgia, cluster headaches, and chronic fascial pain. Other types of pain that may be treated with RFA include complex regional pain syndrome, peripheral nerve entrapment syndromes, and spinal osteoarthritis.
What does it involve?
You will be awake but sedated with intravenous medication to receive RFA. You need to be alert enough to guide the doctor as they place the equipment.
The doctor will place small needles containing electrodes in the area where you experience chronic pain. RFA uses a high-frequency current precisely directed to destroy nerve tissue that carries pain messages to the brain.
You can expect to rest for 24 hours after receiving RFA. Avoid driving during this time. You may feel more pain than usual for several days after the procedure. You will be given extra pain medication to take during recovery. It may take up to three weeks or longer before you experience pain relief from RFA.
Pain relief from RFA can last as long as six months or even a year.
RFA may not be successful at reducing pain.
Pain relief from RFA is not usually permanent. You may need to repeat the procedure if pain returns.
Any surgery carries risks including blood clots, blood loss, infection, breathing problems, reactions to medication, and heart attack or stroke during the surgery.
Depending on the technique used for RFA, additional complications may include weakness, paralysis, meningitis, and intracranial hemorrhage (brain bleed).
There may be pain and inflammation during recovery from RFA.