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Procedure: RadioFrequency Ablation


What is Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)?

It is a procedure used to reduce pain. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area.


Which conditions are treated with radiofrequency ablation?

The procedure can be used to help patients with chronic (long lasting) lower back/neck pain and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis.


How long does the procedure last?

The degree of pain relief varies, depending on the cause and location of the pain. Pain relief from the radiofrequency ablation can last from six to 12 months. Since the nerves regenerate, this procedure may have to be repeated.  More than 70% of patients treated with this procedure experience pain relief. 


How long does the procedure take?

The actual procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes depending on how many sites are being ablated.  Patient should plan to be in the office for approximately one to two hours.  This allows for patient's pre-op and recovery time as well.. The patient’s driver must remain in the building during the procedure.


Will the injection hurt?

The procedure involves inserting a needle through the skin and deeper tissue (like a tetanus shot). While there is some discomfort involved, the skin and deeper tissues are numbed with a local anesthetic using a very thin needle prior to inserting the needle that will house the electrode. The doctor recommends IV sedation for this procedure, which makes the procedure easier to tolerate.


How is the procedure performed?

The procedure is done with the patient lying on their stomach. Patient will have intravenous sedation and a local anesthetic to reduce any discomfort. They will be awake during the procedure to aid in properly assessing the procedure. Using x-ray, the doctor will guide a small needle to the exact target area. The doctor will then check to make sure that the electrode is placed in the correct area by stimulating the nerve; this may cause some muscle twitching or pain.  Once the needle and electrode placement are verified, a small radiofrequency current is sent through the electrode to the surrounding tissue, causing the tissue to heat. The patient should not feel discomfort during the heating portion of the procedure.


What are the risks and side effects?

This procedure has proven to be safe and effective to treat some forms of pain. It also is generally well-tolerated, with very few associated complications. There is a slight risk of infection, bleeding, nerve damage and worsening of pain. The main side effect is discomfort, including swelling and bruising, at the injection site, but this generally goes away after a few days.


What Should I expect after the procedure?

The patient must have someone to drive them home. Coastal Bend Pain Management also encourages patient to not engage in any strenuous activity for the first 24 hours after the procedure. The patient may experience leg numbness and mild back discomfort, so please use caution. It may take 4-6 weeks after the procedure to feel the full effect; in which the patient might notice an increase in pain during this time due to nerve irritation.


Who should not have this procedure done?

The patient should not have this procedure if they have an active infection, are pregnant or think they may be pregnant, or weigh over 390 pounds.

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