Radiofrequency ablation, or RFA, uses radiofrequency energy to disrupt nerve function. When this is done to a medial branch nerve, the nerve can no longer transmit pain signals from an injured facet joint.
An RFA may start with an IV (medicine given intravenously) to help you relax. A local anesthetic may be used to numb your skin. Your doctor will then insert a thin needle near the facet joint. Fluoroscopy, a type of x-ray, will be used to position the needle. Your doctor will then check to make sure it is at the correct nerve by stimulating it. This may cause muscle twitching and provoke some of your pain. Once the needle is properly placed, the area will be numbed. Radiofrequency energy will then be used to disrupt the medial branch nerve.
You will be monitored for up to 30 minutes after the RFA. When you are ready to leave, we will give you discharge instructions. You will also be given a pain diary. It is important to fill this out because it helps your doctor know what the next step will be. Take it easy for the rest of the day. You may feel sore for one to four days. This is normal. It may be due to muscle and nerve irritation. Your back may feel numb, weak, or itchy for a couple weeks. Full pain relief normally comes in two to three weeks.
Nerves regenerate after an RFA, but how long this takes varies. Your pain may or may not return when the nerves regenerate. If it does, another RFA can be done.