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How Can Radio Frequency Ablation Help Manage My Pain?

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Radio frequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that doctors typically use to relieve pain in your neck and back. It uses a device known as a radiofrequency lesion generator, which heats small nerves. This procedure severs the nerves that send pain impulses to joints or fractures in your spine.

What is this procedure?

The doctor initially uses nerve blocks to identify the specific nerves that are causing pain. In a second procedure, the surgeon places needles near the target nerves and uses the radiofrequency lesion generator to deliver a small amount of electrical current to the needles. The surgeon is able to control the level of current very precisely, ensuring that the nerves receive the correct amount of heat. The surgeon then withdraws the needles, ending the procedure.

Who is a candidate?

The best candidates for radio frequency ablation have pain in their back or neck due to facet-joint diseases like arthritis. Facet joints are known as true joints because they have a joint capsule, cartilage lining and synovial joint fluid. These joints are located along the entire length of the spine from your lower back to your neck.

What results can I expect?

A 2007 study on radio frequency ablation showed that this procedure provides effective long-term relief of pain in the back and neck. The results of this study included a long-term decrease in pain for 75 percent of these patients. Other major studies on this procedure show similar results. The most likely reason for radio frequency ablation being ineffective occurs when the specific nerve causing the pain can't be identified.

What are the risks?

Radio frequency ablation is generally safe. The most likely risks are common to all procedures that involve injection, which include pain and swelling at the injection site. Major complications of this procedure are very rare, and primarily consist of damage to major nerves.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Vu please contact our Orange County Pain Management Center to see which location is best for you.