Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation

Radiofrequency nerve ablation (RFA) is when an electrical current (produced by a radio wave) heats up an area of nerve tissue. This decreases pain signals from that area and, because the nerves being treated don’t affect feeling in the arms or legs, it is unlikely to cause problems in these areas. There are two types of radiofrequency nerve ablation:

  • Medial branch neurotomy (ablation): used to treat nerves that carry pain from the facet joints
  • Lateral branch neurotomy (ablation): used to treat nerves that carry pain from sacroiliac joints

What conditions can be treated?

Persistent nerve pain and facet joint arthritis are conditions that can be treated with radiofrequency nerve ablation.

What does the procedure involve?

  • You will have a nerve block injection to check which nerves are transmitting the pain. You may also have a mild sedative and local anaesthetic so you will be awake but not feel any pain
  • The doctor puts a small needle into the painful area and, using X-ray, guides it to the nerves that are affected. You may feel a tingling sensation as a microelectrode is inserted through the needle which stimulates the nerves; this helps check that the needle is in the correct area
  • Once the needle is placed correctly, the doctor passes a tiny radiofrequency current through the electrode, heating up the surrounding tissue. This should not cause any pain
  • A dressing will be put over the site of the injection and you will be able to go home when the sedative has worn off and you have had a drink
  • You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home

How quickly will I recover?

Some people experience leg numbness for a few hours; this should have begun to wear off before you return home. You may have mild discomfort in your back as the local anaesthetic wears off. Taking anti-inflammatory medicine and applying ice (crushed and wrapped in a towel) several times a day should help to relieve any pain. If you are worried about any aspect of your treatment, please contact us for advice

Important: This information is only a guideline to help you understand your treatment and what to expect. Everyone is different and your rehabilitation may be quicker or slower than other people’s. Please contact us for advice if you’re worried about any aspect of your health or recovery.