Radiofrequency ablation, otherwise known as rhizotomy, is a procedure that utilizes heat to either reduce or stop altogether the transmission of pain signals from the body's nerves to the brain, thereby relieving the pain itself.
This interesting and innovative procedure works by using an electrical current produced by radio waves to heat up a very small area of nerve tissue and thereby inhibit this area from sending pain signals to the brain. Radiofrequency ablation is a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure that in most cases is performed using only mild sedation and local anesthetic and takes only 15-45 minutes to complete. Benefits of this course of treatment include the fact that it involves little to no recovery time while also providing immediate pain relief, resulting in a quick improvement of the patient's quality of life and return to regular activities.
How it Works
During the treatment, the administering physician (who may be a radiologist, anesthesiologist, neurologist, or surgeon) uses a live video X-ray known as fluoroscopy to ensure in real-time the correct placement of the needle that is used to precisely target the nerves responsible for sending pain signals to the patient's brain. Once correct placement is achieved, the physician ablates, or burns, the nerve that is responsible for causing the patient's pain.
Radiofrequency ablation can be used to treat chronic pain from a variety of causes, most commonly arthritis. It is also used successfully on back, knee, neck, pelvic, and peripheral nerve pain. In individuals who have in the past experienced successful pain relief from the administration of a nerve block, radiofrequency ablation has a success rate of 70-80 percent, and results can last anywhere from nine months to upwards of two years. In some cases, the nerve may regrow and allow pain to return. If the nerve does regrow, however, it most often will be within the first 6-12 months following the initial treatment, and radiofrequency ablation can be repeated if necessary.
Overall, this procedure is a good option for those experiencing chronic pain, and it is worth discussing with one's doctor to determine if it is a good treatment plan to relieve his or her discomfort.