Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) can be used to help patients with chronic (long-lasting) low-back and neck pain and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area.
Before the Procedure
- Do not eat within six hours of your appointment. You may have clear liquids until two hours before the procedure.
- If you have diabetes and use insulin, you must adjust the dosage of insulin the day of the procedure. Your primary care doctor will help you with this adjustment. Bring your diabetes medication with you so you can take it after the procedure.
- Continue to take all other medications with a small sip of water. Bring all medication with you so you can take it after the procedure. Please note: Do not discontinue any medication without first consulting with your primary or referring doctor.
- You will need to bring someone with you to drive you home after the procedure. You should not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
During the Procedure
- You will meet with a doctor for an evaluation. If a radiofrequency ablation is recommended, a doctor will explain the procedure in detail, including possible complications and side effects.
- An intravenous (IV) line may be placed in a vein in your arm before the procedure and a local anesthetic and mild sedative may be used to reduce any discomfort during RFA.
- You will be awake during the process to aid in properly assessing the procedure.
- After the local anesthesia (you will be awake but will not feel any pain) has been administered, your doctor will insert a small needle into the general area where you are experiencing pain. Using X-ray, your doctor will guide the needle to the exact target area. A microelectrode is then inserted through the needle to begin the stimulation process.
- During the procedure, your doctor will ask you if you are able to feel a tingling sensation. The object of the stimulation process is to help your doctor determine if the electrode is in the optimal area for treatment.
- Once the needle and electrode placement are verified, a small radiofrequency current is sent through the electrode into the surrounding tissue, causing the tissue to heat. You should not feel discomfort during the heating portion of the procedure.
After the Procedure
- You will stay in a recovery room for observation, where a nurse will check your blood pressure and pulse.
- A bandage will be placed over the injection site.
- The nurse will give you a beverage and review your discharge instructions with you.
- Someone must drive you home.
- Do not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours after the procedure.
- You may resume your normal diet.
- Do not engage in any strenuous activity for the first 24 hours after the procedure.
- Do not take a bath for 1 to 2 days after the procedure; you may shower.
- You may remove any bandages in the evening before going to bed.