1. What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (or RFA) is a procedure used to reduce pain. This is completed by passing an electrical current produced by a radio wave to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area.

2. How is radiofrequency ablation performed?

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that is usually performed with local anesthetic. After the local anesthesia has been given to numb the affected area, the doctor will insert a small needle into the site where you are experiencing pain. Using image guidance, your doctor will guide the needle to the exact target area. A microelectrode is then inserted through the needle to begin the stimulation process.

During the procedure, your doctor will ask if you are able to feel a tingling sensation. The object of the stimulation process is to help the doctor determine if the electrode is in the optimal area for treatment.

Once the needle and electrode placement are verified, a small radiofrequency current is sent through the electrode into the surrounding tissue, causing the tissue to heat. You should not feel discomfort during the heating portion of the procedure as the local anaesthetic has numbed the area. If you feel any pain, inform the physician immediately.

3. Which conditions are treated with radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation treats the pain associated with damaged facet joints (arthritis) in your back and neck, as well as your knee, shoulder and hip joints. This damage affects the nerves and can be attributed to neuropathic pain. Damaged joints can be the result of everyday wear and aging, trauma and arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

4. How long does pain relief from radiofrequency ablation last?

The degree of pain relief varies, depending on the cause and location of the pain. Pain relief from radiofrequency ablation can last from 6 to 12 months and in some cases, relief can last for years. More than 70% of patients treated with radiofrequency ablation experience pain relief as shown in the literature for low back pain.

5. Is Radiofrequency Ablation Safe?

Radiofrequency ablation has proven to be a safe and effective way to treat some forms of pain. It is also well-tolerated, with very few associated complications. There is a slight risk of infection and bleeding at the insertion site. Your doctor can advise you about your specific risk as it various between people and conditions.

6. What Are the Side Effects of Radiofrequency Ablation?

The main side effect of radiofrequency ablation is discomfort, including swelling and bruising at the site of the treatment, but this generally goes away after a few days. Numbness can persist for several months after the injection. As with all procedures, a risk of infection and/or bleeding can occur at the procedure site.

7. Who Should Not Get Radiofrequency Ablation?

As with any medical procedure, radiofrequency ablation is not appropriate for everyone. For example, radiofrequency ablation is not recommended for people who have active infections or bleeding problems. There may be some additional considerations if you have a pacemaker or similar device. Your doctor can tell you if you should not have radiofrequency ablation.

8. Can I Resume My Normal Activities After Radiofrequency Ablation?

You will have a few restrictions immediately following radiofrequency ablation:

  • Do not drive or operate machinery for at least 24 hours after the procedure
  • You may resume your normal diet
  • Do not engage in any strenuous activity for the first 24-48 hours after the procedure
  • Do not take a bath for one to two days after the procedure, but you may shower