Spinal nerve pain is one of the most difficult conditions to manage. Healthcare professionals prescribe many types of medications such as anti-inflammatories, narcotics, and anti-epileptics, and a lot of patients end up experiencing minimal relief from the pain caused by inflamed or injured nerves of the spine, and others experience adverse effects of the medications. A therapy that does offer a highly successful rate of improvement though is radiofrequency ablation. This procedure involves inserting a needle through the skin to reach the affected area, under imaging guidance, in order to insert a probe to apply heat around the problematic nerve which helps to stop the transmission of pain signals. The procedure is done under local sedation in a sterile operating theatre by a specialist such as a neurosurgeon or pain control specialist. Information such as what to expect after radiofrequency ablation is performed is essential to know and this will be conveyed here.
Immediately after radiofrequency ablation is performed, nursing personnel will monitor the patient for up to 45 minutes until the latter has woken up from the sedation that was used to relax them. There may be some discomfort or soreness experienced from the site where the probe was inserted to reach the affected area, and the patient may also feel drowsy from the sedation. Patients undergoing this procedure will stay in the hospital for six to eight hours and will be discharged thereafter provided someone can drive them home. The patient can then resume their normal activities the following day if they wish to do so.
Where is radiofrequency ablation indicated?
Radiofrequency ablation is indicated in cases where conventional therapies have failed. These include the mentioned oral treatments, facet joint or epidural injections with local anesthetic medications and/or steroids and nerve blocks.
The common conditions, where nerve inflammation and injury occur, managed with radiofrequency ablation include the following:
- Cervical radiculopathy causing severe neck pain
- Lumbar radiculopathy causing severe lower back pain
- Spinal arthritis
- Peripheral nerve entrapment
- Spondylolisthesis (shifting of the spinal vertebrae off each other)
- Complex regional pain syndrome
Effectiveness of radiofrequency ablation
Studies show that spinal ablation helps to offer pain relief for six to 12 months in some patients, but for others, radiofrequency ablation can offer years of relief. This pain relief is experienced almost immediately by most patients, but some report that the improvement occurs gradually over two to three weeks.
It has also been demonstrated in a recent study that 86 percent of participants who received spinal ablation had experienced pain relief, and none of these patients reported adverse events such as numbness in the injection site, bleeding, blood clot formation (hematoma) in the muscle, or signs of infection. Another similar study found that 93 percent of patients had experienced pain relief.
The summation that can be made regarding radiofrequency ablation then is that it is an extremely safe procedure that offers significant pain relief, and has minimal risks and adverse issues associated with the procedure and where complications are rarely reported.