Back pain is one of the most common ailments people suffer, and because it can be such a debilitating and stressful condition, doctors are constantly looking for ways to treat and alleviate back pain in patients. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications, surgery, and devices such as back braces are all commonly known options to treating back pain, but radio frequency ablation is a procedure that few are aware of, and may find it helpful in treating their pain.
Radio frequency ablation is a process by which heat-producing electricity is used to burn away nerves and tissue, therefore stopping the nerves from sending pain signals to the rest of the body, thus ending the pain itself. Radio frequency is specifically used to treat pain from the facet joints, which are joints located between the bones of your back. They are a common source of back pain, which means radio frequency ablation can be a successful procedure for many.
Located within the facet joints are tiny nerves which transmit pain signals. To see if radio frequency ablation can help you, your doctor must first determine if the facet joints are the cause of your back pain. To discover this, you will likely undergo facet joint injections, meaning numbing and steroid medications will be injected directly into the joint. Depending on your pain response, the doctor can determine where your pain is coming from. Your doctor will then get a closer look into the exact areas causing the pain through medical branch blocks, which involves the same medicine being injecting, only going around the nerves instead of the joint.
If it is discovered that your facet joints are causing your pain, then you can become a candidate for radio frequency ablation. Luckily, you will be prepared for the procedure as it is a lot like the facet joint injections used to determine your source of pain. Simple numbing drugs and IV sedation will be used to reduce any discomfort, and a heated needle will be placed using x-ray. The heat is produced by a special radio frequency machine, and the target nerves are then destroyed. This should significantly reduce your back pain, though the nerves can grow back within the next year and a half. However, should this happen, your pain may be at a lower level than it was before the procedure.
Recovery from radio frequency is fairly simple, requiring mostly rest and pain management. You will probably feel some discomfort and increased pain for the first couple of weeks, but it will decrease over time. You can help this with heat, ice, and any prescription drugs your doctor may give you. Rest is extremely important, as this will not only help you recover, but will also help any pain to lessen and keep from getting worse. You will need to try to lay with the more painful side down, and avoid soaking in tubs or pools for a week. As with any medical procedure or surgery, you should watch for infection symptoms such as fever, drainage, or increased swelling, and your doctor will want to see you in 1-2 weeks for a follow-up.