Relief for Arthritis Pain: Are You a Candidate for Radiofrequency Ablation?
Can Radiofrequency Ablation Help?
As you age, your joints break down, cartilage wears thin, and the fluids that lubricate your joint decrease in amount. You may begin to experience arthritis, pain, and swelling in your joints. The nerves exiting your spinal cord can become pinched, or constrained when arthritis begins to affect your vertebrae. Treatment options beyond pills and lotions are available.
Click through this slideshow to learn about radiofrequency ablation to see if it can help you.
What Is Radiofrequency Ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure used to reduce pain caused by arthritis. Before the procedure, you will be given a mild sedative and an anesthetic. You will likely be awake during the procedure, but you will not be able to feel any pain.
During an RFA treatment, a doctor will insert a small probe into your back. Using an X-ray device, your doctor will guide the probe to the affected area. The probe will produce an electrical current that sends radio waves into your nerve tissue. The waves heat up small segments of the affected nerves and hopefully block pain signals.
Which Symptoms Can Be Treated with Radiofrequency Ablation?
RFA is typically used to treat patients with one of the following spine-related conditions, such as:
- low back pain
- chronic, or long-lasting, low back pain
- pain caused by the breakdown of joints in the spine
- neck pain
- arthritis of the spine
- pain from prior spinal surgeries
- damaged caused by whiplash
How Long Do the Benefits of Radiofrequency Ablation Last?
This length of relief time varies from person to person and is based on two factors: what area of the body RFA is treating and what caused the arthritis.
After an RFA treatment, you may not notice significant pain relief for several weeks to a month. On average, an RFA treatment can reduce pain for six to 12 months. This is a longer period of time than more traditional pain-management treatments, such as nerve blocks. RFA treatments may need to be repeated if pain returns.
What Preparations Are Needed for Radiofrequency Ablation?
Here are a few measures your doctor may recommend you take before an RFA procedure:
- Stop eating six hours before the procedure.
- Only consume clear liquids up to two hours before the procedure.
- Adjust your insulin dosage based on your doctor’s recommendation on the day of your procedure.
- Continue taking any medication on the day of your procedure unless your doctors orders otherwise.
- Take medication with a small amount of water.
- Stop taking medicines, such as aspirin, which can affect blood clotting, two weeks before RFA.
What Are the Risks Associated with Radiofrequency Ablation?
Generally, RFA is considered safe and effective. Most patients will tolerate the procedure well and without complications. However, you do have a slightly increased risk for infection and bleeding around the area where the probe is inserted.
A nurse will place an IV in your arm before the procedure. You may experience mild discomfort. After the IV is removed, you may have bruising around the IV site.
Before your procedure, talk with your doctor about any additional risks you may have based on your personal health history.
What Are the Side Effects of Radiofrequency Ablation?
RFA has very few side effects. Possible side effects include:
- discomfort in the area of treatment
- swelling and bruising at the site of injection
- leg numbness caused by the local anesthesia
- mild pain at the site of the injection
Seek emergency help if you experience:
- severe pain at the injection site
- increased swelling or redness around the injection site
- prolonged leg numbness, weakness, or difficulty walking
How Long Is Recovery from Radiofrequency Ablation?
Following your procedure, you’ll need an adult to drive you home and monitor you for 24 hours. Your doctor will instruct you not to drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours.
You can return to a normal diet once you leave the hospital. Your doctor may suggest that you avoid strenuous activity for several days so the injection site has time to heal.
Before you leave the hospital, be sure to ask your doctor if you have any specific recovery orders.
Who Is Not a Good Candidate for Radiofrequency Ablation?
RFA is handled well by most people. However, every person with arthritis pain isn’t a candidate for this procedure. People with ongoing and active infections or bleeding issues should not receive RFA.
Discuss all your risk factors with your doctor. They’ll take into consideration your personal health history and your history of response to typical arthritis treatments before deciding to try RFA.
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