Radiofrequency Ablation: All of Your Questions Answered

Radiofrequency Ablation: All of Your Questions Answered

Your facet joints are the joints between your vertebrae that allow for movement so you can twist, turn, bend over, and arch your back. Like any other joints in your body, these are susceptible to arthritis and can become painful and stiff as the condition progresses. 

While many people with arthritis in their spines get sufficient relief from lifestyle changes, anti-inflammatory medications, or regenerative therapies like prolotherapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP), radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a treatment that goes a step further for those who do not experience significant improvements from other conservative care modalities. 

While RFA is never the first treatment for back pain due to arthritis, it can be a successful last resort for patients with facet joint or sacroiliac joint arthritis. In fact, 60% or more of these patients report significant pain relief and functional improvements. 

Double board-certified pain management specialist Glenn M. Flanagan, MD, provides cutting-edge care for arthritic back pain, including radiofrequency ablation, when he feels it’s necessary. At Naples Regenerative Institute in Naples, Florida, Dr. Flanagan takes the time to educate you about the treatment before you go through with it. 

Here are answers to some of the most common questions people have about RFA and what it does for arthritic spine pain:

How does radiofrequency ablation reduce pain?

RFA can provide many people with long-term relief from back or joint pain, especially from arthritis. At its core, RFA works by burning (ablating) the nerve at the source of the pain. Through a needle, Dr. Flanagan administers radiofrequency energy to the targeted nerve, which heats and burns it until it can no longer transmit pain signals to your brain. Local anesthetic medication is applied to the area first, so you are comfortable and cannot feel the heat from the ablation procedure.

How precise is radiofrequency ablation?

You might wonder about the accuracy of radiofrequency ablation in treating nerves or the possibility of damage to other nearby tissues. While one of the procedure’s downsides is that it can weaken the multifidus muscle that stabilizes your spine, RFA is quite precise in targeting the intended nerves because of supplemental procedures that happen with radiofrequency ablation. If you do require RFA for pain management, ask Dr. Flanagan how adding PRP as part of your treatment could help prevent muscle loss and joint degeneration. 

Dr. Flanagan ensures the procedure’s precision by first using a diagnostic nerve block to identify the nerves at the source of your pain. These nerve blocks involve injecting local anesthesia directly around the nerves — if the anesthesia reduces your pain immediately, he knows he’s found the correct areas. 

Dr. Flanagan also uses imaging technology to view the needle during treatment as he inserts it, which further lends to precise tissue targeting and safe treatments. 

Can RFA treat more than one nerve at a time?

Everyone is different, and it’s possible for more than one nerve to be sending pain signals to your brain. Dr. Flanagan gives you a detailed evaluation to determine how many nerves require treatment and can treat each of them during a single RFA procedure. 

How much recovery time should you anticipate?

You’ll need to rest for around 24 hours after your radiofrequency ablation procedure and arrange for someone to drive you home from the office. You can return to your normal routine a day or two later, but you might experience some mild soreness in the treated area. Dr. Flanagan advises you on how to manage any lingering discomfort with medication, heat, ice, creams, patches, or possibly physical therapy. 

How long does it take to feel the results?

The time it takes to detect a difference in your spinal arthritis pain after RFA varies from person to person. At most, you can anticipate waiting around three weeks for the results to appear, but it may take less time. 

How long do results last?

RFA results can vary, but the procedure offers long-term pain relief for many people. The lower end of the spectrum is around six months, while some people experience improvements for longer than a year. It’s possible for the pain to return because the nerve eventually regenerates, but Dr. Flanagan can talk to you about follow-up RFA treatments and other options to maintain your results.

If you have spinal arthritis and continue to search for an effective back pain treatment, call Naples Regenerative Institute or schedule an appointment online anytime to find out if you’re a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation. 

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