What is Radio Frequency Ablation?

in Pain Management Treatments / January 12th, 2018

If you’ve ever experienced back pain or neck pain, you’re not alone. In fact, nearly all Americans will experience back or neck pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is even the third most common reason why Americans go to the doctor.

Radio frequency ablation or RFA. This treatment is a minimally invasive pain management treatment for one of the most frequent causes of back or neck  pain — damaged facet joints in the spine.

What Are Damaged Facet Joints

Before diving into what radio frequency ablation or RFA is and how it works, we have to discuss facet joints: what they are and how they can be damaged.

Your facet joints are extremely important to your movement, feeling, and posture. There are two facet joints between each pair of vertebrae in your spine, and each joint features synovial fluid lubrication to protect against aging, wear and tear. Your facet joints make your back flexible. They allow you to turn, bend, and twist freely.

The Cause of Damaged Facet Joints

When your facet joints are healthy, you can turn, bed, twist, and move freely — without pain or discomfort. When facet joints become damaged, however, vertebrae on either side of the facet joints will grind together, causing pain and discomfort.

Facet joint syndrome, damaged facet joints, and osteoarthritis are all essentially the same thing. These are terms that refer to facet joints that have become damaged, and therefore, pairs of vertebrae are grinding against one another.

Damaged facet joints can be caused by several different things. Most of the time, they are caused by:

  • Aging
  • Acute injury
  • Pressure overload

Most of the time, the real cause of damaged facet joints is a combination of these factors. As we age, the intervertebral discs in our spine slowly begin to degenerate, which causes what’s called pressure overload. As a result, the spaces between each pair of vertebrae narrows, and the discs wear down and eventually collapse. Articular cartilage that is on the surface of each facet joint then bears too much pressure, and as a result, cartilage wears away over time, leaving your vertebrae to rub against each other — bone on bone.

How Radio Frequency Ablation Works

Radio frequency ablation is essentially a procedure that involves an electrical current (created by a radio wave) being used to heat nerve tissue in the spine. This stops or lowers pain signals from the affected area. It is an outpatient procedure that uses mild sedation and local anesthesia.

Radio frequency ablation is a two-step process.

Step 1: If the facet joints are suspected to be causing the neck and back pain, a test injection to temporarily numb the pain will be given. If there is temporary pain relief, your doctor will consider you a candidate for radio frequency ablation, with a high level of confidence that the RFA will be successful.

Step 2: The full RFA procedure will be performed, which should provide pain relief.

The advantage of this two-step procedure is the ability to first test how well the procedure will work.  And if step one does work, you can be confident that facet joints were the source of the pain and that RFA will work to relieve that pain.  

There’s no hardware or cutting, and the pain relief effects from the procedure can be effective for up to 2 years.

Radio Frequency Ablation at The Spine & Sports Health Center

Radio frequency ablation can be an excellent way to both diagnose and treat damaged facet joints or osteoarthritis in the spine. If you have been experiencing neck pain and/or back pain, and some of the symptoms of damaged facet joints listed above sound familiar to you, RFA may be a viable treatment option that can reduce pain — potentially effective for up to 2 years.

At The Spine & Sports Health Center, our medical experts specialize in radio frequency ablation treatment.  If in the end, if we find that damaged facet joints were not the core cause of your back or neck pain, our medical professionals will design a unique treatment plan to diagnose and care for whatever the cause of your pain truly is.

Our board-certified physicians were trained and educated at the top institutions in Northern New Jersey and New York City and are supported by a highly trained staff of acupuncturists, physical therapists, and administrative professionals. To learn more about radio frequency ablation or to schedule a consultation appointment, call us today at (201) 535-2474 or contact us online.

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