Radiofrequency Ablation Treats Neck, Back, and Knee Pain

Posted on: May 21st, 2021 by Dr. Christopher Faubel

There are many types of treatment for neck and back pain, ranging from conservative options to different kinds of surgery.

In this blog, we’ll explain more about one particular nonsurgical treatment called radiofrequency ablation (RFA), an in-office procedure that deadens the pain sensations from joints in the neck and low back, even the knee.

Individuals who would qualify for RFA typically have chronic neck pain, chronic low back pain or chronic knee pain caused by wear and tear on the joints known as osteoarthritis. The type of neck pain and back pain we’re describing feels like stiffness and aching pain in the neck or back and can also be felt in the buttocks and legs, but doesn’t zing down the legs or arms, which is most associated with a pinched nerve.

We typically recommend RFA as a treatment option for patients if they’re still experiencing pain after taking anti-inflammatory medication or tried physical therapy or chiropractic care.

How does RFA work?

Radiofrequency ablation targets the tiny nerves – similar in size to fishing line or thin dental floss – next to the joints in the neck and back. OrthoIllinois physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) specialists can pinpoint these painful areas in real time using an X-ray.

The doctor will inject medication that numbs the pain sensation similar to what a dentist would do for a tooth. This is done over a period of two visits, and if the patient experiences tremendous temporary pain relief, that means the problem areas have been properly identified.

Then, the doctor will use a special needle that heats up and cauterizes the tissue, which deadens the nerve sensation so it no longer transmits pain signals to the brain. Our Stryker equipment is the newest technology that makes bigger ablations/lesions that deaden larger sections of tissue, allowing for extended pain relief. Each spot only takes about 90 seconds to treat.

Patients usually feel relief quickly – within a few days. Their quality of life is improved and they can resume normal, everyday activities. There is also no recovery period after this simple procedure.

The deadened nerve section(s) will regrow, but patients typically report feeling relief for at least six months, and typically more often a year or so. RFA treatment can be easily repeated if pain returns.

How do I know if RFA is right for me?

Radiofrequency ablation may be the right choice for you if you have chronic neck pain or chronic back pain that hasn’t responded to other conservative treatment such as physical therapy, chiropractic care or steroid injections. Most insurance plans will cover RFA.

RFA can target low back pain, also known as lumbar spine pain; neck pain, or cervical pain; sacroiliac joints, also known as the SI joints; and for knee pain. For the knee pain, this includes patients who have already had knee replacement surgery but are still experiencing lingering knee pain or people who may not be eligible for knee surgery.

Chronic pain means pain that lasts at least three months or more, as opposed to acute or new pain caused by an injury or trauma like a car accident. Most people who are eventually treated with RFA are living with arthritis – men and women, typically ages 50 and older but individuals can develop arthritis even earlier.

Radiofrequency ablation is very accessible through OrthoIllinois. Dr. Ryan Enke and Dr. Zeeshan Ahmad offer the treatment at our Rockford Riverside Clinic, and I provide RFA at our Algonquin Clinic.

There’s no reason to put off treatment or put up with pain for years. Call us at 815-398-9491 for more information or request an appointment online.

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