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Conditions that Can Be Helped with Radiofrequency Ablation

Conditions that Can Be Helped with Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency (RF) ablation is a procedure used to disable one or more nerves that send pain signals to the brain. The goal is to provide significant relief from a number of pain-causing conditions such as arthritis and chronic lower back pain. 

RF treatment generally provides longer-lasting pain relief than therapeutic injections.

At Pinnacle Pain and Spine, interventional pain specialists Dr. Matthew Crooks and Dr. Stuart Rammell offer RF ablation to their patients in the Scottsdale, Chandler, and Fountain Hills areas of Arizona who suffer from chronic pain in and around their spine. 

Because many patients aren’t familiar with the procedure, we put together this guide to conditions that can benefit from RF ablation.

Oh, my aching back!

Back pain can show up anywhere along your spine, starting at the base of your skull and ending at your tailbone. 

Your spine contains 24 bony vertebrae, hooked together top and bottom with facet joints that allow you to move, and cushioned in between by soft intervertebral discs that absorb shock.

Inside the spinal column is the epidural space, through which the spinal cord runs. Long extensions run from these nerves out through holes in the vertebrae to the peripheral body areas. 

If anything impinges on these nerves, or more often their roots, it can cause numbness, tingling, and pain that radiates into an extremity.

Pain can be the result of an injury, disease, or simple wear-and-tear due to aging.

Common causes of back pain include:

Bulging discs

If an intervertebral disc changes shape, for example, due to an auto accident or sports injury, it can impinge upon nerve roots, causing pain.

Ruptured discs

If the hard outer coating of the disc ruptures, the gel-like interior can ooze out and impinge on nerves, causing pain.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a specific kind of impingement. Something presses on the sciatic nerve, the nerve that runs from your lower back (between the L4-L5 vertebral joint) down your leg and into your foot. You feel a sharp, shooting pain that travels along the nerve’s path (radiculopathy).

Radiculopathy can occur anywhere along the spine, but is most common in the neck and lower back regions because these sections move the most.

Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that develops as a result of the wear-and-tear on the joints from years of movement. When it affects the facet joints in the spine, the inflammation can cause pain and stiffness on its own, as well as irritate nearby nerves.

Degenerative disc disease (DDD)

DDD isn’t a disease but rather a wear-and-tear condition of the spinal discs that causes deterioration over time. You usually feel a chronic ache interspersed with short bursts of radiculopathy.

How radiofrequency ablation helps

RF ablation is a pain management technique that uses heat to disable nerves so they can’t send pain signals to the brain. Typically, we use it after nerve blocks and/or facet joint injections have provided definitive but only short-term relief.

Ablation can treat nerve pain in any part of the spine for conditions that include all of those above, as well as cervicogenic headaches (pain referred from neck vertebrae) and occipital neuralgia (nerve pain in the back of the head).

To disable a nerve, we insert a needle-like tube, or cannula, along the nerve under the guidance of X-ray fluoroscopy. Next, we insert an RF electrode through the cannula, which emits a small electrical current to recreate your usual pain. This step assures the needle is sitting alongside the appropriate nerve.

We apply a numbing medication, then send RF waves through the needle’s tip to be converted into heat. The heat creates a lesion in the nerve, interfering with its ability to transmit pain signals. There’s no risk of paralysis or weakness from this procedure.

The results are impressive. Ablation used for facet joint pain provides relief in 45-60% of patients treated. When used for sacroiliac joint pain, it provides relief in 75-86% of patients treated. 

Of course, success depends on many factors, including accuracy of diagnosis, variations in nerve anatomy, and the exact technique used. Patients typically see relief from six months to two years, though some studies have shown it can last up to three years.

If you’re dealing with chronic neck or back pain that’s nerve-related, you may be a candidate for radiofrequency ablation. 

To learn more or to schedule a consultation with one of our pain specialists, call Pinnacle Pain and Spine at any of our locations, or request your appointment through our online system. We have offices in Chandler, Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills, Arizona.

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