FAQs on Radiofrequency Ablation in Atlanta

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure, which provides long-lasting pain relief to people with facet joint pain and other nerve problems. Many clinical studies show that radiofrequency ablation significantly reduces the pain severity and frequency for up to two years after the initial procedure.

What is radiofrequency ablation?

Also called radiofrequency neurotomy, radiofrequency ablation involves the application of heat to certain nerve roots to basically stop the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This procedure has a high success rate and a very low complication rate, and it is performed on an outpatient basis.

What are the benefits of radiofrequency ablation?

The benefits of radiofrequency ablation include:

  • Long-lasting pain relief
  • Improved quality of life
  • Low complication rate
  • Decreased use of analgesics
  • Greater range of motion
  • Short recovery time
  • Delay of surgery

What can I expect before the procedure?

Before the radiofrequency ablation procedure, the Atlanta pain management doctor will confirm your diagnosis through medial branch blocks and facet joint injections. If you are a good candidate for this procedure, the doctor will conduct a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination.

You will not be allowed to take any blood thinning medications for 5 days before the procedure. You are not permitted to eat or drink for at least 6 hours before the procedure, but can take necessary medications with small sips of water. Be sure to bring someone with you to drive you home.

How is the radiofrequency ablation procedure done?

Radiofrequency neurotomy is performed with the patient awake and sedated. After you sign a consent form, the nurse will place an IV catheter in your arm and give you a sedative. To begin, the doctor numbs the back with a local anesthetic, while you are lying your stomach.

Using x-ray guidance, the doctor inserts a needle and electrode into the treatment area. Once placement is confirmed, a high-frequency electrical current passes through the electrode to head up the sensory nerve. Once this is done, the needle is removed, and a bandage is applied.

What can I expect after the procedure?

Patients usually go home within 1-3 hours. Expect some mild discomfort at the injection site immediately after the radiofrequency ablation procedure, but this resolves in a few hours.

Most patients are able to return to normal activities and work within 24-48 hours. You will notice decreased pain and continued improvement over the next few weeks, and this will last for up to 2 years. For the muscle soreness, use ice packs for 20-minute intervals several times a day.

Does the radiofrequency ablation hurt?

There are several layers of fat, soft tissue, and muscle that surround and protect nerves. With the radiofrequency neurotomy, needles are inserted through these layers, so there is some pain experienced. However, the doctor first numbs these structures with an anesthetic, so most patients feel pressure rather than pain. When the electrical current reaches the nerves, you may feel tingling, but not severe pain.

How many procedures will I have?

If the radiofrequency ablation works, expect the results to last for 3-24 months. If one procedure is not successful to provide pain relief, the doctor may suggest that you have another repeat treatment after 2-4 weeks. The effects of a neurotomy are not permanent, so a repeat procedure may be necessary in a couple of years.

What are the risks and complications of radiofrequency ablation?

As with all minimally invasive procedures, some risks and complications are associated with the radiofrequency ablation procedure. These include soreness, bruising, bleeding, and infection and bleeding at the infection.

Is the radiofrequency ablation effective?

Radiofrequency ablation has positive effects for relieving back pain, facet joint pain, and sacroiliac (SI) joint pain. In a review of many clinical studies, several reports proved that this procedure offered long-term relief, while others proved only short-term benefits.

In one study with patients who suffered from SI joint syndrome, half of the participants reported more than 50% reduction in pain scores at the follow-up visit 6 months afterwards. In a recent randomized controlled study of radiofrequency neurotomy involving 40 patients with chronic low back pain, significant improvement was seen in the treatment group, with reports of increased quality of life and lessened generalized pain.