Understanding Radiofrequency Ablation

Understanding Radiofrequency Ablation

Chronic pain is physically debilitating, but it takes an emotional toll, too. If you’ve battled pain for more than three months — no matter what its original source — you have chronic pain.

Traditional treatments center around numbing the feelings of pain with medications, including potentially addictive opioid drugs. However, radiofrequency (RF) ablation and other types of interventional treatments go straight to the source of the pain, turning down its volume or turning it off altogether. 

At Spectrum Pain Clinics in Jackson and Cordova, Tennessee, we help women and men with chronic pain reduce or stop their dependence on opioids and other pain medications by offering RF ablation and other treatments for chronic pain. If you’re considering RF ablation, here’s what you should know. 

RF ablation targets the nerve 

Pain is a perception. If the pain signal never reaches your brain, your brain can’t perceive it and, therefore, you won’t feel it. That’s the concept behind radiofrequency ablation.

Your specialist first identifies the nerve or nerves that cause your chronic pain. We give you a mild sedative, and you lie on either your back or your abdomen so we can access the nerve that’s sending out the pain signal. 

Your doctor uses fluoroscopy — a sort of X-ray movie they watch on a monitor — to guide an ultra-thin, hollow needle toward the nerve that’s causing your pain. When the needle is in place, we thread a microelectrode through the tube of the needle. When you feel a tingling sensation, that’s a sign that we reached the nerve. 

You’re comfortable but awake during the procedure so you can tell us what you feel and we can verify that we’ve located the correct nerve. We then send a high-frequency RF electrical current through the hollow, insulated needle. The current heats up and creates a lesion on the pain-causing nerve and its fibers.

The nerve fibers that the RF ablation targeted can no longer transmit pain signals to your brain the way they did before the procedure. Depending on the extent of the nerve wound, you may not feel any pain at all. Or, if you do feel pain, it should be significantly less than the pain you felt before RF ablation.

Recovery from the RF ablation procedure is simple 

Your RF ablation procedure doesn’t take long. However, you may experience some temporary numbness or weakness in your legs for a short period afterward. We ask that you remain in a recovery room following your procedure so a nurse can verify that you’re feeling well. The sedative makes you groggy, so be sure to arrange for someone else to drive you home from our clinic.

We place a bandage over the treatment site, which you can remove before you go to bed that night. You should refrain from vigorous activity for the next 24 hours. You may shower, but don’t take a bath or swim for the next two days. You should be able to return to your normal routine and activities within a day or two.

You might notice some mild pain and swelling at the treatment site as your body heals from the RF ablation. You may experience mild back pain that lasts a few days, but you should be able to control it with over-the-counter pain medications and by applying wrapped ice packs to the area. 

Pain relief from RF ablation lasts

More than 70% of women and men who undergo RF ablation experience significant pain relief. In most cases, relief lasts for 6-12 months. However, if the nerve was severely damaged or regenerates slowly, you may experience relief for years at a time. If your pain returns, you may undergo another RF ablation procedure.

If you’re ready to turn off or turn down the volume on your chronic pain, find out if you’re a candidate for RF ablation by contacting the Spectrum Pain Clinics location nearest you today. Call our helpful office staff, or use our online request tool.

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