Nerve ablation renders a problematic nerve or nerves unable to transmit pain signals to the brain, thereby reducing pain in a desired area. The procedure is performed using a minimally invasive technique, by precisely positioning a needle near the target nerve. X-ray or ultrasound guidance is used to ensure a safe and effective procedure. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is the most common way to perform this procedure to treat numerous causes of chronic pain including arthritis, post-surgical pain, neuralgias, neuromas, and sciatica.
WHO SHOULD CONSIDER Nerve ablation?
Nerve ablation is commonly used for patients suffering from chronic pain when more conservative treatments do not provide adequate relief. Pain from spinal facet joint arthritis, peripheral joints (knees, shoulders), neuralgias (trigeminal, occipital, intercostal, ilioinguinal, pudendal, tibial), post-surgical pain (shoulder surgery, knee replacement, hernia repair), and radicular pain (sciatica) responds well to nerve ablation treatments.
what is the procedure like?
With radiofrequency ablation (RFA), an electrical current is applied using specialized equipment to transmit radio wave impulses and heat from the needle. This energy alters the nerve’s ability to process pain signals and reduces or eliminates the pain previously relayed to the brain. Dr. Joyal will use x-ray or ultrasound guidance to precisely target the appropriate nerve. The procedure typically takes 15-20 minutes. Sedation is available.
Patients may experience some soreness for a few days after the treatment. It can take a few weeks for the treated nerves to fully respond to the therapy. Potential side effects include light numbness, or a sunburn-like discomfort which improve within a few days to weeks. Weakness is an extremely rare side effect which also resolves with time. RFA treatments can provide pain relief for up to 1-2 years and sometimes even longer.
Types of Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
Cervical Facet RFA
This interrupts the nerve supply from painful facet joints in the neck. This is helpful for reducing neck pain and some referred pain that may cause headaches, shoulder pain, and pain in the shoulder blade area.
Lumbar Facet RFA
This interrupts the nerve supply from painful facet joints in the low back that may be the source of low back pain. Referred pain patterns from lumbar facet joints may also cause leg pain which will improve as well.
Sacroiliac (SI) Joint RFA
The sacroiliac joint is a weight bearing joint in the pelvis that connects the spinal column to the pelvis. When SI joint dysfunction (sacroiliitis) is severe, patients feel pain in the hip, groin, buttocks, and even down the back of the thigh. SI joint RFA interrupts the nerve supply from this area.
Thoracic Facet RFA
This interrupts the nerve supply from painful facet joints in upper and mid back. Constant aching at the base of the neck, between the shoulder blades and pain that wraps around the chest are effectively treated using RFA.
Peripheral Nerve RFA
This type of radiofrequency ablation targets nerves where the pain occurs. It can be used for injured nerves (from trauma or surgery) or to target nerves that transmit pain from other injured tissues, like joints. Peripheral nerve RFA can be used in essentially any body region safely and effectively.