Can radiofrequency ablation help?

As you age, your joints break down, your cartilage wears thin, and the fluids that lubricate your joints decrease.

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.

If pills and lotions cease to be effective, radiofrequency ablation is another treatment that can help.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure used to reduce pain caused by arthritis. During the treatment, your doctor will insert a small probe into your back.

Using an X-ray device, they will guide the probe to the affected area. The probe will then produce an electrical current that sends radio waves into your nerve tissue. The waves heat up small segments of the affected nerves to block pain signals.

Before the procedure, you will be given a mild sedative and a local anesthetic. You will be awake during the procedure, but won’t be able to feel any pain.

RFA is used to treat people with spine-related conditions that include:

  • low back pain
  • pain caused by the breakdown of joints in the spine
  • neck pain
  • arthritis of the spine
  • pain from prior spinal surgeries
  • damage caused by whiplash

RFA has also been successful in treating heart rhythm problems and cancer.

The length of time RFA provides relief varies from person to person. It’s also based on two factors: what area of the body RFA is treating, and the cause of the arthritis.

After an RFA treatment, you should experience significant pain relief for several weeks to a month.

On average, an RFA treatment can reduce pain for six months to a year. Relief from pain can also last longer than more traditional pain-management treatments, such as nerve blocks.

RFA treatment may need to be repeated if pain returns.

Your doctor may recommend a few measures before you undergo an RFA treatment. These include:

  • Stop eating six hours before the procedure.
  • Consume only clear liquids up to two hours before the procedure.
  • Stop taking medicines which can affect blood clotting, such as aspirin, two weeks before the RFA.

Also, continue taking any other medications on the day of your procedure, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

And if you take insulin, adjust your dosage on the day of your procedure based on your doctor’s recommendation.

RFA generally is considered safe and effective. Most people don’t have complications from the procedure.

However, there is an 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. And 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.

RFA has very few side effects. Some include:

  • discomfort in the area of the treatment
  • swelling, bruising, and mild pain at the site of the injection
  • leg numbness caused by local anesthesia

Seek emergency medical care if you experience any of the following:

  • severe pain at the injection site
  • increased swelling or redness around the injection site
  • prolonged leg numbness, weakness, or difficulty walking

Following your procedure, you’ll need someone to drive you home and monitor you for 24 hours. Your doctor will instruct you to not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours.

You can return to a normal diet once you leave the hospital. And your doctor may suggest you avoid strenuous activity for several days so that the injection site has time to heal.

Before you leave the hospital, be sure to ask your doctor if there are any other specific recovery orders.

RFA is handled well by most people, however not everyone with arthritis pain is a candidate for the procedure. People with active infections or bleeding issues shouldn’t receive RFA.

Discuss all risk factors with your doctor. They’ll take into consideration your personal health history and your history of response to typical arthritis treatments before they would recommend RFA.