Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic and Cancer Pain

With radiofrequency ablation, a procedure that uses radio waves, significant pain relief may be achieved.

Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic and Cancer Pain

Radiofrequency ablation, also known as radiofrequency lesioning, is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a specialized radiofrequency needle to ablate, or destroy, targeted spinal nerve endings. The heat generated from the radio waves damages this nervous tissue, preventing the nerve from transmitting pain signals. With radiofrequency ablation, significant pain relief may be achieved for several months.

Radiofrequency ablation is not a first-line treatment

Radiofrequency ablation is reserved for patients who have chronic, unrelenting pain that is not resolved by other therapies, including:

Prior to undergoing radiofrequency lesioning, you must first respond well to a diagnostic nerve block, which is used to pinpoint the specific spinal nerves that are causing pain.

Conditions treated by radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency lesioning may be used in the treatment of many pain conditions, including:

  1. Chronic back or neck pain, especially due to degenerative facet joint disc disease
  2. Peripheral nerve pain from disease or injury
  3. Pain resulting from spinal cord injury
  4. Intractable cancer pain
  5. Spondylosis

What to expect during radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency lesioning is an advanced procedure that uses image-guided fluoroscopy – a type of medical imaging that displays a live X-ray image on a monitor – to ensure accurate placement of the radiofrequency needles. During the procedure:

  1. You lie on your stomach.
  2. Your skin is sterilized at the injection site.
  3. You are administered a local anesthetic to numb the injection area.
  4. You are positioned on the fluoroscopy X-ray table.
  5. Your pain management physician inserts the radiofrequency needle into your skin, and guides it toward the targeted spinal nerve endings, using the fluoroscopic image for reference.
  6. Once the needle is positioned, a low voltage charge is administered to test for proper placement.
  7. You receive an anesthetic injection to numb the area.
  8. A higher voltage is used for the actual radiofrequency lesioning.

Following the radiofrequency ablation procedure

You will be moved to a recovery room and monitored by your care team. In most cases, radiofrequency lesioning is performed on an outpatient basis and you will go home the same day, although in rare cases some patients may require admission to the hospital following the procedure.

The Henry Ford Pain Center approach

At the Henry Ford Pain Center, pain treatment begins with a thorough medical history and physical exam. All patients are evaluated by board-certified pain medicine physicians, physician assistants and certified nurse practitioners to identify the cause of their pain. Following initial assessment, we work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that may include interventional pain procedures, medication therapy, physical therapy, massage and other complementary options.

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