Radiofrequency Ablation For Back Pain: How Does It Work?

Radiofrequency Ablation For Back Pain: How Does It Work?

From sports injuries to the effects of aging, any problem, big or small, can bring down your back and leave you keeled over in pain. Instead of spinning your wheels looking for the right combination of pain medication and stretches to relieve your back pain, turn to our expert and our repertoire of back pain treatments. 

Dr. David Wu at CurePain in Torrance, California, has years of experience addressing virtually every cause of back pain with advanced treatments like radiofrequency ablation. Here, we give you a sneak peek into how this treatment works and how it can benefit you. 

What is radiofrequency ablation?

The power of radiofrequency ablation is right in its name. Ablation is the process of removing or neutralizing a malfunctioning body part or tissue, usually by surgery, hormones, or other methods. In the case of radiofrequency ablation, we harness the power of radio waves to heat a small area of nerve tissue, destroying it and stopping it from sending pain signals to your brain. 

What happens during radiofrequency ablation?

To begin, you lie comfortably on your stomach on our X-ray table. Typically, you’re awake as we work, but we administer a local anesthetic to numb the treatment area and help you feel more relaxed. We use a special device to monitor your condition during the entire procedure.

The first step of radiofrequency ablation involves inserting a small hollow needling into the nerve that’s causing your pain. Then, with the help of a special X-ray called fluoroscopy, we send an electrode through the needle. A few tests confirm that the electrode is in the proper place before we send the radiofrequency current through. 

Once the current reaches your nerve, the heat destroys it and prevents it from sending pain signals. If need be, we can treat more than one nerve at a time. 

From start to finish, radiofrequency ablation takes anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, depending on the treatment location and the number of treatments performed. 

What is the recovery process like?

Radiofrequency ablation is not a major problem, so it doesn't require extensive pre- or post-procedure care. You can go home shortly after your treatment, though we do require that you have a trusted friend or family member drive you home. 

Once you’re home, it’s best to rest. Avoid driving or doing anything too strenuous for at least the first 24 hours. After a day or two, you can shower and return to normal activities. 

Side effects from radiofrequency ablation are minimal at worst. Most of our patients are sore at the treatment site or feel muscle spasms for a few days. You can manage these easily by applying an ice pack or cold compress to the injection site. 

Depending on your needs, we may recommend that you start a physical therapy program to regain some strength and flexibility — both of which you need to help your back stay healthy for the long haul. 

We also have you schedule a follow-up appointment to monitor your progress, answer questions, and answer any questions you might have about your recovery.

When do we recommend radiofrequency ablation?

Back pain is complicated and can stem from a wide range of problems. Fortunately, radiofrequency ablation is often a solution no matter what’s behind your pain. We use it to treat the following causes of back pain:

Radiofrequency ablation offers long-lasting relief from pain and restores function. Many of our patients also find that they’re less dependent on pain medications and can avoid the operating room. 

Who’s a candidate for radiofrequency ablation?

Because it’s minimally invasive, radiofrequency is typically an option for the vast majority of our patients. You’re especially a candidate if your back pain hasn’t responded to conservative treatments like pain medication or physical therapy. 

Another way to tell if you’re a good candidate is to have a nerve block. If a nerve block works to relieve your pain, we know that a particular nerve is the source of your pain; therefore, an appropriate target for radiofrequency ablation. 

Only a few factors may disqualify you from having radiofrequency ablation. You may not be a candidate if you’re pregnant or have an infection or a bleeding problem. 

Does radiofrequency ablation actually work?

The answer is a resounding yes. However, it’s important to know that radiofrequency results vary from person to person. For some, pain relief is immediate and/or lasts for years. For others, pain relief develops a bit slower and may only last for six months. 

We can combine radiofrequency ablation with other minimally or noninvasive treatments to address your back pain from multiple angles. 

Still, others notice that the treated nerve regrows. The good news is that even if that happens, we can repeat radiofrequency ablation if necessary. 

Back pain is debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be your new normal. Call or click to schedule an appointment with our expert to see if radiofrequency ablation is an option for you. 

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