Radiofrequencies can be strategically used to manage pain that’s considered chronic (lasting 4-6 months or more). Involving the use of an electrical current generated by a radio wave, radiofrequency treatment heats up the nerve tissue believed to be responsible for a patient’s pain. Doing so decreases the pain signals sent from those nerve to the part of the brain that interprets pain. The treatment is often used to manage back, neck, and joint pain as well as discomfort linked to chronic conditions such as arthritis.
How Radiofrequency Treatment Works
Radiofrequencies may be applied to affected area with a technique known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Another similar option is radiofrequency neurotomy, a procedure often used to ease back and neck pain.
With radiofrequency ablation, a local anesthetic and mild sedative may be given to minimize discomfort during the treatment. An X-ray is used to guide a small needle to the affected area. An electrode is inserted through the needle to provide the appropriate stimulation. Patients stay awake during the procedure to offer feedback on whether or not they’re experiencing relief.
Radiofrequency neurotomy involves the insertion of radiofrequency needles into the affected area of the spine. Image scans are used to provide guidance to the correct nerve tissues. Numbing medication is usually used to ease discomfort during the outpatient procedure.
When to Consider Radiofrequency Treatment
Radiofrequency treatment may be recommended when other attempts at chronic pain management methods aren’t effective, or when conservative remedies aren’t providing lasting relief. It’s not recommended for patients with existing skin conditions that may be affected by heat sensations. Radiofrequency stimulation of nerves may help manage pain involving:
- Nerve irritation around joints
- Degenerative wear and tear of spinal discs and joints
- Radiating nerve pain like what’s often experienced with sciatica
- Discomfort in one or both sides of the lower back
- Pain relegated to the thighs and buttocks but not past the knees
Before and After Radiofrequency Treatment
Tests are often done prior to the procedure to determine if the nerves that will be targeted during the treatment are the same ones responsible for a patient’s pain. Patients can usually resume normal activities within 24-48 hours after the procedure. Showering is fine, but baths should be avoided for a few days
The relief experienced with radiofrequency treatments like radiofrequency neurotomy and RFA may make it easier for patients to actively participate in physical therapy and perform beneficial muscle strengthening exercises. Nearly 80 percent of patients who receive radiofrequency treatments report positive results, which may last anywhere from several months to many years.