How Radiofrequency Ablation Works

Millions of Americans battle persistent pain every day thanks to compressed or irritated nerves. One of the most effective frontline treatments for these “noisy” nerves is a technique called radiofrequency ablation, which prevents the nerve from sending pain signals.

As a pain management practice, our team here at Comprehensive Pain Management, led by Drs. Do Chan and Boris Shwartzman, wants to ensure that patients have a wide range of treatment options. While we offer the latest advances and techniques in pain management, sometimes the best first step is one that’s tried and true, such as radiofrequency ablation.

Here’s a look at how radiofrequency ablation (RFA) works.

The concept behind RFA

Your sensory nerves play an incredibly valuable role in alerting you to danger or a problem, but this response can become tricky when there’s a structural issue that’s persistently irritating your nerve.

For example, if you have degenerative disc disease and one of your discs begins to herniate or bulge, it can press up against one of the sensitive nerve roots that branch out from your spine. In many cases, the problematic disc doesn’t represent a serious health issue, but its constant pressure against the nerve can make your life fairly miserable.

In this scenario, it makes sense to target the overactive nerve rather than make structural changes to free up the nerve. And this is where RFA comes in.

With RFA, we deliver an electrical current that ablates the nerve that’s responsible for sending the pain signals. By creating an adhesion on the problematic nerve, we prevent it from signaling your central nervous system.

The RFA procedure

RFA is a minimally invasive pain-management technique that we perform on an outpatient basis. 

When you come in, we position you on a table and administer a local anesthetic for your comfort. Using fluoroscopy, which is the term for a live X-ray, we guide a needle into the nerve we believe is responsible for your pain. Once in place, we deliver a radiofrequency current through the needle and into your nerve. This energy heats up the nerve and creates the adhesion we referred to earlier.

Once we complete the procedure, you’re free to return home.

After your RFA procedure

Immediately after your RFA procedure, you may feel some soreness at the treatment site, which is typically short-lived. Over the following weeks, you should realize gradual relief from your pain as your body adapts to the newly ablated nerve. We advise that you take it easy during this time, and use your own judgment as to when you feel ready to return to more active pursuits.

As for how long these results last, it’s hard to say as our patients respond differently. Many enjoy pain-free movement for 6-12 months while some go even longer.

If you’d like to explore whether radiofrequency ablation can alleviate your pain, please contact one of our offices in Attleboro or Franklin, Massachusetts, or South Kingstown or Warwick, Rhode Island.

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