Nerve roots coming from the spinal cord are often the source of back, neck and shoulder pain. For individuals suffering from chronic neck and back pain, nerve ablations can be an effective way to manage this pain. A nerve ablation, also known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA), is an innovative, non-surgical and minimally invasive procedure that uses radiofrequency waves to destroy the end of small nerves that irritate your facet joints.
Facet joints are pairs of joints located at each vertebral level of the spine. Each facet joint is connected to two medial branch nerves that carry signals – including pain signals – from the joints to the brain. The objective of RFA is to deliver radiofrequency waves to certain nerves with the goal of interrupting pain signals to the brain. The basic principle is that the damage the radiofrequency waves cause to the nerves will stop them from sending pain signals to the brain.
During a nerve ablation procedure, a local anesthetic is used to numb the treatment area, and then a needle, directed by imaging technology, is inserted to deliver radiofrequency waves along the targeted nerves. This probe is guided and targeted and does not damage surrounding tissue or nerve ganglia. Once the target nerve is confirmed, the needle emits safe, controlled lesions that heat and numb the nerve. The procedure does not take more than an hour and most patients can return to their daily routine immediately following the procedure.
How Long Does it Take for Radiofrequency Ablation to Start Working?
Pain relief following nerve ablations is typically felt around 1 to 3 weeks after the injection. While most patients are able to resume normal activity immediately following the procedure, it is still recommended that patients rest for a couple of days. The area treated will likely be sore for a few weeks after the procedure, and the area might feel weak or have the feeling of a sunburn. This pain is caused by muscle spasms and irritability as the targeted nerve tissue is being killed off, a process that usually lasts anywhere from 7 to 21 days.
What is the Success Rate of Radiofrequency Ablation?
Nerve ablations are most successful for patients that respond well to facet block injections. For people who have had successful nerve blocks, nerve ablations are 70-80% effective. While results vary for all patients, the effectiveness generally lasts anywhere from 3 to 12 months. In this procedure, the damage done to nerves blocks them from sending pain signals, but often they will regenerate, causing the pain to return. If needed, the procedure can safely be repeated.
If you’re experiencing chronic back, neck or shoulder pain or pain from arthritis or joint degeneration, nerve ablations might be an effective, non-surgical way to treat your pain. Contact us today to learn more about these innovative treatments or to schedule a consultation.