How Does Radiofrequency Ablation Relieve Pain?

How Does Radiofrequency Ablation Relieve Pain?

You have an overactive nerve that objects to certain movements, causing you a good deal of pain. Through radiofrequency ablation (RFA), we can quiet this nerve, allowing you to move freely and without pain.

Of the many pain management services that Drs. Do Chan, Boris Shwartzman, and the rest of the team here at Comprehensive Pain Management offer, radiofrequency ablation is among the most popular.

Here’s why this procedure is so effective at relieving pain.

A quick look at nerve anatomy

To better appreciate why RFA is so effective at relieving pain, it’s useful to understand some of the basics when it comes to your nervous system.

Your central nervous system is made up of your brain and spinal cord, which act as a central command center for your peripheral nervous system. Along your spine, there are 31 pairs of spinal nerves and roots that branch out from your spinal cord to form most of your peripheral nervous system.

As ground zero for the nerves that travel throughout your body, when these spinal nerve roots are compromised in any way, the side effects can be both local and radiate down the length of the affected nerve group. This is why a problem in your lower back can cause symptoms that travel down your leg or why an issue with a cervical nerve root can lead to symptoms that travel down one of your arms.

How radiofrequency ablation works

With radiofrequency ablation, we use radiofrequency energy to cauterize the nerve that’s responsible for your discomfort. This quick heating action creates an adhesion on the nerve, preventing it from transmitting pain signals to your brain.

In many cases, we use RFA to quiet sensitive nerve roots along your spine, but we can also use this technique to address an overactive nerve in your major joints, such as your hips or knees.

We perform RFA on an outpatient basis, and the procedure is quick. Once we get you comfortable, we apply a local anesthetic and then, using live X-ray to guide us, we thread a hollow needle into the target area.

When the needle is in position, we release a radiofrequency current that burns the nerve that’s responsible for the pain signaling.

Advantages of an RFA procedure

There are many advantages of an RFA procedure, starting with its success in relieving pain. If we’ve administered nerve blocks previously and they worked well, an RFA is typically 70-80% effective. 

Unlike nerve blocks, an RFA is designed for longer-lasting results — six months to two years or more, though results can vary. Nerves can grow back, at which point they might start their pain signaling again. When this occurs, we can quiet the nerve again with another RFA procedure.

An RFA is also minimally invasive and provides a great alternative to more risky solutions, such as surgery.

If you’d like to figure out whether radiofrequency ablation may hold the key to your pain relief, contact one of our offices—in Attleboro or Franklin, Massachusetts, as well as South Kingstown or Warwick, Rhode Island—to set up a consultation.

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