Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure using radio waves or electric current to generate sufficient heat to interrupt nerve conduction on a semi-permanent basis. The nerves are usually blocked for 6-9 months, although it may last as short as 3 months or as long at 18 months or longer. Radiofrequency ablation disrupts nerve conduction, specifically interrupting the conduction of pain signals. In turn, this may reduce pain, and other related symptoms.
Initially there will be muscle soreness for up to a week afterward. Ice packs will usually control this discomfort. After that first several days, your pain may be gone or quite less. You should be able to return to work the next day. For some patients, soreness at the injection site or sites may cause you to be off work for several days.
Depending upon the areas to be treated, the procedure can take from twenty minutes to an hour. The procedure involves inserting an introducer needle or needles through skin and those layers of muscle and soft tissues, so there is some pain involved. However, we numb the skin and deeper tissues with a local anesthetic using a very thin needle before inserting the introducer needle or needles.
This procedure is done under local anesthesia. Some patients also receive intravenous sedation, which makes the procedure easier to tolerate. The amount of sedation given generally depends upon the patient tolerance. It is necessary for you to be awake enough to communicate easily with the physician during the procedure. However, some patients receive enough sedation that they have amnesia and cannot always remember parts or all of the actual procedure.
Generally speaking, this procedure is safe. However, with any procedure there are risks, side effects and the possibility of complications. The risks and complications are dependent upon the sites that are ablated. Since the introducer needles have to go through skin and soft tissues, there will usually be some soreness and occasionally bruising. The nerves to be ablated may be near blood vessels or other nerves that can be potentially damaged. Electricity is also used during the procedure raising the possibility of an electrical burn. Great care is taken when placing the radiofrequency needles and using the electrical current, but sometimes complications occur. Fortunately, serious complications or side effects are uncommon.