Neck and back pain are among the most common medical complaints for both men and women, and because both types of pain tend to be chronic and recurrent, keeping symptoms at bay can be problematic. Pain medication may provide some relief, but to keep symptoms from coming back, many people need to take large doses of medicine or take medicine on a frequent basis, putting them at risk for side effects like gastrointestinal bleeding, liver or kidney damage, or addiction.
While medicine might be the most commonly prescribed option for pain management at a lot of medical practices, the fact is, there are alternatives to managing pain that don’t involve pain medicine. At Orthocenter, we use radiofrequency ablation (RFA), an increasingly popular noninvasive treatment option that can provide many patients with long-lasting, meaningful pain relief.
What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) uses targeted and precise amounts of focused radiofrequency energy to block pain signals before they reach your brain. When we experience pain, those sensations begin in an area that’s injured. Nerve cells in that area “sense” pain and send that information to the brain, where the signals are “translated” into the sensations we feel. That type of signal transmission can be helpful in preventing further injury — for instance, it’s this type of signaling that keeps us from putting our hand on a very hot stove. Sometimes, though, our nerves can be over-sensitized to any type of physical stimulation, and even relatively light touches can trigger pain signaling. This is what researchers believe is at the root of pain syndromes, like fibromyalgia. Other times, pain signals can interfere with mobility or therapeutic activities. In these cases, having a way to block that signaling pathway can be a good solution for managing chronic or recurrent pain.
That’s how RFA works. By targeting nerves involved in chronic pain signaling, RFA causes “controlled damage,” creating very tiny scars or adhesions that work to block the signals from traveling to the brain. RFA is used most often to treat medical conditions and degenerative disease like spinal arthritis or sacrolitis, chronic inflammation of the joints in the lower back, as well as other types of chronic pain in the neck, back, and limbs. RFA typically is used after other options have failed to provide long-term pain relief, and it can help many patients avoid or delay surgery, reduce their need for large or prolonged doses of medicine, and improve their mobility as well.
What to expect during an RFA treatment
RFA uses a thin, hollow needle inserted near the root of the affected nerve. The doctor uses a special type of X-ray called fluoroscopy to position the needle for very precise and accurate delivery of the radiofrequency energy. Once the needle is in place, a very thin probe is inserted into the needle and advanced to the nerve. The probe releases radiofrequency energy in controlled bursts to ablate the nerve and prevent it from sending pain signals. Each burst is about 90 seconds in length, and multiple areas can be treated in one procedure.
RFA uses a local anesthetic and a mild sedative to help you stay relaxed and comfortable. After the procedure, you’ll remain in a recovery area for a brief period before being discharged. Since you will have received a sedative, you’ll need someone to drive you home. You might have some discomfort for a week or two, although many patients experience complete pain relief very soon after their treatment. The effects of RFA typically last between six months and a year.
Get relief for your back and neck pain
Back and neck pain can take a major toll on your health and your quality of life, and without prompt medical care, your symptoms can wind up becoming a lot worse. To learn more about RFA treatment at Orthocenter or to find out about other pain management solutions we offer, book an appointment online today.