If you've ever lived with pain, you've likely tried every chronic pain management technique you could. Massage. Chiropractic. Acupuncture. Pain meds. Maybe even major surgery — which comes not only at great cost but at great risk.
Thanks to improvements in technology and surgical instruments, healthcare has entered a new era of minimally invasive methods. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is one such innovation to manage chronic pain.
Big Words, Simple Concept
If "radiofrequency ablation" is unfamiliar, the concept is quite simple: By using radio waves (that's the radiofrequency) to heat nerves that send pain signals, those nerve fibers are stunned (that's the ablation), blocking those nerves from sending pain signals to your brain.
Pain physicians have continued to expand the use of RFA to treat various chronic pain conditions and the results have been impressive.
A study published in the journal Pain Physician, which looked at RFA therapy used to treat chronic knee pain, nearly all of participants said they felt complete pain relief three months after the procedure. Six months later, 95 percent of them said they were still experiencing near complete pain relief.
Tiny Cut, Big Relief
After numbing your back with local anesthesia, under image guidance your doctor will use a needle to insert a slim electrode where you're feeling pain. Then, they'll use a specialized generator to deliver energy pulses to the probe to heat your nerves.
The heat stuns nerve tissue, which then becomes unable to send messages to your brain that you're in pain. Without those messages, your chronic pain settles down.
And because RFA is a minimally invasive technique, most patients won't need more than a mild sedative to stay comfortable, which means they can be home the same day.
Less Pain, Lots of Gain
Beyond the potential to be pain-free after a relatively quick procedure that barely leaves a scar, RFA can save you money in the long run, too. According to the American Chiropractic Association, low back pain carries a $100 billion price tag in the U.S. every year, mostly due to lost wages and productivity.
Many chronic pain treatments — such as surgery, alternative therapies or medications — either don't last long or come with undesirable side effects. Opioids, for instance, are commonly prescribed to treat chronic pain, but they can be dangerous and addictive. RFA's side effects — weakness or numbness in your legs, swelling and bruising at the incision site — are uncommon and usually temporary. Serious complications from this procedure are rare.
The amount of relief that RFA provides varies by the cause of pain and from where it originates, the Cleveland Clinic says. But most people experience pain relief for six to 12 months; for some patients, the relief lasts years.
Through a proven, long-lasting technique such as RFA, you can potentially get back to work sooner, save money and live with less pain.
Is Radiofrequency Ablation for You?
Whether you might be a candidate for RFA depends on two questions: Where does it hurt and what is causing your pain?
RFA is best for treating pain in certain discrete areas of the body, as it targets nerves in the area of the spinal facets, or other areas of the body, including the lower back, arthritic joints (including the sacroiliac joints), the knees and hips — all areas of chronic pain that the Cleveland Clinic says benefit from RFA.
If this sounds like you, RFA might be worth exploring. After all, living with chronic pain is not only exhausting; it's costly, too. This same-day surgery could be your answer to chronic pain management, so you can get back to doing the things you love — and doing them without pain.
Radiofrequency ablation has a risk of unintended nerve injury (potentially resulting in radiculopathy, paresis, and paralysis), pain, pulmonary embolism, hemothorax or pneumothorax, unintended puncture wound, hemorrhage, and hematoma.