Using Radiofrequency Ablation for Pain Control


RFA, or Radiofrequency Ablation, is a procedure used to address chronic sources of pain. This is accomplished by using radio waves to generate heat directed towards the diseased tissue. This approach is generally used when all less-invasive forms of treatment have been attempted and failed to produce acceptable results. Prior to receiving RFA, your physician will have attempted the use of oral medications, physical therapy, and other appropriate minimally invasive approaches. RFA is used when the anticipated relief from chronic pain is at least 50%. It is most often used for chronic pain symptoms found in the lower back, neck, or arthritic joints.


Understanding Radiofrequency Ablation and How It Can Ease Pain

Radiofrequency ablation targets diseased tissue by directing radio waves through a special needle inserted into the target site. The applied radiofrequency heats the needle, damaging the nerves. These nerves are the pathway for the transmission of pain signals. This surgical damaging of the nerves helps to prevent these messages from reaching the brain. This can provide meaningful relief from pain, even eliminating it in some cases. Radiofrequency has been used to treat a range of conditions, including:

  • Knee, back, and neck pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Peripheral Nerve Pain
  • Killing tumors
  • Issues with Heart Rhythm
  • Trigeminal neuralgia causing facial pain

One common target of RFA treatment is the facet joints. These joints occur between the vertebral bones of the spine. These joints give our spine the freedom of movement that allows bending and twisting. Connected to these joints can be found a pair of nerves known as the medial branch nerves. Their job is to alert the brain when pain is coming from these joints. Using RFA to cause a lesion in these nerves can provide meaningful relief from chronic spinal pain.

When you undergo radiofrequency ablation, your physician will start by ordering imaging in the form of x-rays or MRIs. These are performed to help them better visualize the area they’ll be working in, as well as the severity of your condition. They will also perform a diagnostic block. This is a chemical deadening of the nerves at the target site. This will help them identify the severity of your pain and the likely level of relief you’ll receive. If these tests reveal that an RFA is likely to be effective, they’ll schedule the procedure.

What To Expect During Radiofrequency Ablation

On the day of the procedure, you’ll show up at the clinic and be directed to the treatment room. You’ll be provided with a surgical gown and asked to change into it. Once in the surgical gown, you’ll be placed on your stomach on the operating table. A local anesthetic will be applied, and the needle-guided into the target site using fluoroscopy. A local anesthetic will then be administered directly to the target site, and the radio waves will be administered to the needle. The procedure takes about 15 minutes overall and requires little recovery time in most cases. Speak to your physician to learn more about this procedure.


Dr. Todd A. Bromberg, M.D. When chronic pain and spinal issues impact your quality of life, you need a team of crack spine and pain specialists at your disposal. Delaware Valley Pain & Spine Institute works with some of the most respected experts in the field to bring pain relief and restored quality of life to patients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey!
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