Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that uses targeted, precise delivery of heat to destroy a small amount of tissue. In neurology, it can be used to destroy nerve tissue responsible for chronic pain symptoms, preventing nerve transmission between specific nerves and the brain so pain signals are blocked.
Facet joints are the joints located between each pair of spine bones or vertebrae. These joints help keep the spine mobile and flexible, and they also provide “exit points” for nerves leaving the spine and traveling to other areas of the body. Sometimes, these joints can become injured or, more frequently, they can become arthritic and inflamed as the protective lining covering their surfaces becomes worn away over time. As a result, they can compress and impinge on nerves, causing chronic and often debilitating pain. Radiofrequency ablation works by heating up specific portions of certain nerves so pain signals cannot be transmitted to the brain. The procedure is minimally invasive, helping patients relieve painful symptoms without the need for spine surgery.
RF ablation for facet joint pain is performed under sedation to help the patient relax during the procedure. The heat energy is applied through a special needle inserted into the joint space. Prior to insertion, the injection site will be cleansed and a local anesthetic will be injected to numb the area. X-rays will be used to accurately guide the needle placement into position. Once the needle reaches the correct spot, heat will be administered for a brief period of time to create a tiny lesion, then the needle will be removed and a small bandage will be placed over the injection site. Once the procedure is complete, the patient will be in a recovery area for one to two hours before being discharged. In most cases, most activities can be resumed in a couple of days.
For most patients, the results of RF ablation for facet joint pain can last for up to two years.