Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure in which radio waves are produced and used to create heat. When the heat is produced around the nerve, the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals is destroyed and the nerve is ablated. The goal is to interrupt the pain signals to the brain. This type of procedure is used to treat facet or sacroiliac joint pain.
Facet joints are smaller joints at each vertebral segment of the spinal column that provide stability and help guide the movement of the spinal column. The sacroiliac joint is the joint between the sacrum and ilium in the pelvis and is located at the bottom portion of the spine. Just like any other joint in the body, facet and sacroiliac joints can become painful due to arthritic changes in the spine, injury, or stress.
Before this procedure is considered, the joints must have undergone previous injections with relief, but for less than a 2 week period of time. If the ablation is effective is should provide joint pain relief lasting at least 9 to 14 months and in some case much longer. After this period of time the nerve will begin to regenerate and there is a chance that the pain may return. The entire procedure takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.
Prior to the procedure the patient is offered the choice to take a Xanax for anxiety an hour prior to coming in. This is not a necessity, but only used to help ease the anxiety the patient may be feeling prior to the injection. The patient will also need a driver to and from the office for the injection. Additionally prior to the procedure the patient should not have taken any anti-inflammatory medications for at least 5 days prior to the injection. Additionally the patient must stop either Coumadin or Plavix if they are taking it, but only as directed by their physician.
On the day of the injection, the patient will be asked to change into a gown, which allows the doctor access to the area of the back to be injected and to clean the area. The patient lies down on the table and the area of the neck/back to be injected is sterilized with betadine, which may present as a cold sensation on the area. The area is then numbed with a local anesthetic at the different levels that will be injected. Then under fluoroscopy a needle is inserted into the anesthetized area and into the facet joint or sacroiliac joint. A small current of electricity will be then carefully passed through the needle to assure that it is next to the nerve that is to be ablated. Once the nerve location is confirmed the nerve will then be numbed to minimize pain while the nerve is being ablating. The procedure is then repeated at up to 5 additional nerves.
Following the procedure the patient may experience pain or soreness over the next week. The pain is usually the result of muscle spasms and nerve irritability due to the nerves dying from the heat lesion caused from the electrical current. The patient should cautiously return to their regular activities.
For more detailed information or questions please contact your doctor. This information is not to be substituted for medical advice.
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