What is Radiofrequency?
Radiofrequency waves are electromagnetic waves which travel at the speed of light, or 186,000 miles per second (300,000 km/s). Radiofrequency Energy is a type of heat energy that is created by a special generator at very high or super high frequencies. With the use of this specialized generator, heat energy is created and delivered with precision to target nerves that carry pain impulses. The resulting “lesion”involves a spherical area of tissue destruction at the tip of the RF needle that can include pain-carrying nerves.
Why is this procedure done?
Radiofrequency ablation/lesioning is a procedure used to provide longer term pain relief than that provided by simple injections or nerve blocks. Many patients who are being considered for this procedure have already undergone simple injection techniques like Epidural Steroid Injection, Facet Joint Injection, Sympathetic Nerve Blocks, or other nerve blocks with pain relief that is less prolonged than desired. By selectively destroying nerves that carry pain impulses, the painful structure can be effectively denervated and the pain reduced or eliminated for anywhere from a few months to up to 12 months.
How is this procedure done?
Once a structure has been determined to be a pain generator, its nerve supply is targeted for interruption. A small insulated needle or RF cannula is positioned next to these nerves with fluoroscopic guidance (live video X-Ray). Your doctor knows where to place the RF cannula because he is an expert in anatomy. The shaft of this cannula except for the last 5 to 10 mm is covered with a protective insulation so that the electric current only passes into the surrounding tissues from the very tip of the cannula. When the cannula appears to be in good position, the doctor may perform a test and release a small amount of electric current through the needle tip at two different frequencies. This test helps to confirm that the cannula tip is in close proximity to the target nerve and that it is not near any other nerve. After a successful test confirms good cannula tip position, a local anesthetic is injected to numb the area. The RF generator is then used to heat the cannula tip for up to 90 seconds, and thus the target nerve is destroyed.
What types of conditions will respond to Radiofrequency Lesioning?
There are a multitude of chronic pain conditions that respond well to this treatment. Chronic spinal pain, including spinal arthritis (spondylosis), post-traumatic pain (whiplash), pain after spine surgery, and other spinal pain conditions are those most commonly treated with RFL. Other conditions that are known to respond well to RFL include some neuropathic pain conditions like Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS or RSD), peripheral nerve entrapment syndromes, and other assorted chronic pain conditions. A patient’s candidacy for RFL is usually determined by the performance of a Diagnostic Nerve Block. This procedure will help to confirm whether a patient’s pain improves just for the duration of the local anesthetic (or not). Patients who have little to no pain relief after a diagnostic nerve block are not candidates for a neurodestructive procedure like RF Lesioning.
Can this procedure be repeated if my pain returns?
It is possible for the treated nerve(s) to regenerate, which could lead to recurrent pain. However, RF Lesioning is repeatable for nerve regeneration if it worked the first time around.