• London Spinal Partnership

Radiofrequency ablation for pain

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure that is performed with the aim of reducing pain. Using an X-ray for guidance, an electrical current is then used to produce heat to burn the area of nerve tissue that is sending the pain signals up to the brain, which will ultimately stop the pain.

This treatment is usually performed on patients that are suffering from chronic pain in their spine or other parts of the body. This procedure can be used on patients with arthritis and neck, pelvic, back and peripheral nerve pain.

Is it safe?

RFA has minimal risks and in most cases is a safe procedure. For many of the patients that undergo this procedure, the results will be extremely beneficial and in some cases can be life changing. With every procedure there can be complications that occur during or after the procedure, however the benefits will usually outweigh the risks. Some of the possible risks include:

· Infection

· Numbness

· Neuritis

· Bleeding

· Neuroma

You consultant will always go over the risks associated with the procedure in detail before you go ahead with it and will also inform you of all the complications and benefits of RFA.

Preparing for the procedure

Before the procedure your consultant will give you a guide on how to prepare for it. Here are some tips:

You must be very clear with your doctor about what medication you take, as this could cause complication and alter how effective the anaesthetic is during the procedure. You will be guided by your consultant what medication you will need to adjust for the procedure.

Do not eat six hours before the procedure and only drink water.

Bring comfortable clothes and someone with you to help you get home after the procedure. Allow 24 hours before you drive after the procedure (to ensure that the anaesthetic is out of your system).

During the procedure

Your doctor will go through the procedure with you again on the day of the surgery to ensure that you have a clear understanding of exactly what will happen. Your doctor will also give you the opportunity to ask any further questions that you are not sure on and will then ask you to sign your consent form.

Once in the theatre, a local anaesthetic will be applied to numb the affected area. In some cases a low dose of sedative will be used, however you will still remain awake during the procedure.

During the procedure a thin needle will be guided by x-ray to the area of pain. A microelectrode is passed through the needle to the targeted nerve tissue. The microelectrobe will burn off nerve tissues that transmit the pain and destroy the signal. The procedure usually takes around 45 minutes, however can be longer if there is a larger area of pain.

After the procedure you will be taken to a ward, where you will be given time to recover and observed to ensure that everything is running smoothly. Once the anaesthetic has worn off, you will be able to walk. You will be able to return home the same day, however you must not drive. A follow-up consultation will be organised to ensure that the procedure has been successful and to see if your symptoms have reduced.

How long does the pain relief last?

Depending on the location and severity of the pain, the pain relief will be different for each person. However, it will usually last from 9 months onwards, in some cases it can be years. The procedure has a 70% success rate, and can be repeated if needed.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition

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