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Spinal Radiofrequency Ablation

What is Spinal Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA)?

Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure where an electric current is used to heat up a small area of a nerve to stop it from sending signals. A doctor will confirm the patient’s diagnosis by making sure that they’ve had at least two successful medial branch blocks. If the patient is a good candidate, the doctor will ask for the following information:

  • Current medications, including herbal supplements and their dosages
  • Drug, iodine or latex allergies
  • Current health conditions

Radiofrequency ablation is performed under anesthetic of the physician’s choice. To begin, the area to be treated is numbed with a local anesthetic. Using x-ray guidance, the doctor will insert a needle and electrode into the treatment location. After confirming correct placement, a high-frequency electrical current is passed through the electrode, heating up and lesioning the sensory nerve. Once the procedure is complete, the needle and electrode are removed.

Typically patients go home within one to three hours. The patient may experience some initial discomfort immediately after the procedure, but most patients are able to return to work and their normal daily activities within 24 to 38 hours. After a few days, the patient should notice a marked decrease in pain and continued improvement over the next several weeks. The patient can expect long-lasting pain relief. Because nerves do repair themselves, the pain may return, but the procedure can be done again with similar results.

Learn more at https://strykerivs.com/procedures/radiofrequency-ablation.

Step-by-Step RFA Procedure

Frequently Asked Questions about RFA

How is radiofrequency ablation performed?

First, Dr. Bartsch will determine you are a good candidate by performing two “test” blocks called “Medial Branch Blocks” or “MBB”. If you have great improvement (80% or more improvement) with both blocks you may be a good candidate for RFA. Dr. Bartsch will use a special needle/probe to target the specific nerves in your back, these are not the nerves that send signals down your legs or near your spinal cord. He uses a special x-ray to help guide his needle to the correct area, followed by a test stimulation to confirm his location and target.

How effective is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation stops the nerves from sending signals, these nerves do try to grow back. Every patient is different and will experience a varying level of improvement after ablation.

What are the risks?

Common side effects are temporary numbness or temporary pain at the procedure site. Two of the very rare side effects are bleeding or infection. To avoid these side effects, please always make staff aware at each visit if you are on a blood thinner or have a pacemaker, defibulator, and/or implanted stimulator.

Is radiofrequency ablation right for you?

If you have chronic low back pain that does not respond to other conservative treatment such as physical therapy, you may be a candidate for this treatment. If you have low back pain that occurs on one or both sides of your lower back, pain that spreads to the buttocks and upper thighs, pain that is worse after lift something or twist, or pain that is relieved by laying down.

1 Stryker. Radiofrequency Ablation. Available: https://strykerivs.com/procedures/radiofrequency-ablation Accessed May 4, 2021.

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