Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that results in the interruption of the sensory nerve supply to the facet or sacroiliac joints to relieve pain. The facet joints are located in pairs along the back of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. The sacroiliac joints are located in the lower back.
The procedure involves placing needles under X-ray guidance near the nerves that supply the joints. Heat is generated by the radiofrequency generator to interrupt the nerve pathways. Some people experience permanent pain relief and others may have pain relief for several months. Complications are rare, but may include infection, pain, swelling, bruising at the injection site and neuritis. If you receive pre-medication, you will require a ride home.
When you arrive, a nurse will get a description of your pain and how you are managing daily activities. Your blood pressure, pulse, temperature and weight will be taken. Medications, allergies and a brief health history will be reviewed. It is important to let the nurse know if you have allergies to X-ray dye, Betadine or latex, if you are taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin, Plavix, Pradaxa or Lovenox, if you have diabetes or if you might be pregnant.
After discussing treatment with your physician and signing a consent form, you will go to the X-ray room where you will be helped onto the X-ray table into the best position for visualizing your spine. We will try to make you as comfortable as possible. Your skin will be cleansed with antiseptic and after numbing the skin on your back, the physician will place the needle using X-ray guidance. A small amount of contrast dye may be injected to check the proper position of the needles. A positive stimulation is one that reproduces your pain without producing other sensory or motor findings in the arms or legs. The entire procedure takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
You should plan to stay with us for another 20 to 30 minutes after your procedure. A nurse will be available to answer any questions you might have and review instructions and follow-up care.
When you go home
- Activities: Rest and avoid activities that might aggravate your pain. You can usually return to work the next day and begin exercising on the second day, but stop if you experience any discomfort.
- Pain: Ice on the injection site and taking your pain medications will help with any discomfort. Some patients experience muscular pain after the procedure for a few days.
- Follow-up: You may be asked to make an appointment in three to five weeks to evaluate your progress. Your physician may recommend a physical therapy program to strengthen the muscles of the spine.
You will notice an improvement within a few weeks lasting anywhere from three months to a year or more. The nerves will eventually regenerate and the procedure may need to be repeated.
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