Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Pain

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Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Pain

What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation of nerves is a procedure that may be used to reduce certain kinds of chronic pain by preventing transmission of pain signals. It is a safe procedure in which a portion of nerve tissue is heated to cause an interruption in pain signals and reduce pain in that area. This procedure is sometimes called radiofrequency lesioning.

Your doctor will first identify the nerve or nerves that are sending pain signals to your brain. You will have a test that uses a nerve block, which numbs specific nerves, to help your doctor find the nerves that are causing your pain.

You may have X-rays to pinpoint where to direct the radiofrequency probe. After you receive a local anesthetic, the doctor places an instrument under your skin through which electrical stimulation heats the surrounding tissue. This may cause you to feel a buzzing or tingling sensation. The heat "stuns" your nerves, blocking them from sending pain signals to your brain. But the nerve often tries to grow back. If it does, the results are only temporary and usually last for around 6 to 9 months.

This procedure is done in an operating room and takes between 20 minutes to 1 hour or longer depending on how many, and which, nerves are being blocked. If the nerve that is blocked is not the nerve that is causing the pain, your pain will not be reduced.

Radiofrequency ablation is not effective for everyone. If you have not responded well to other treatment, such as diagnostic local anesthesia nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation will probably not work for you.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Shah RV, et al. (2003). Interventions in chronic pain management. 2. New frontiers: Invasive nonsurgical interventions. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 84(3, Suppl 1): S39–S44.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Greenwald, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Revised April 5, 2011

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