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Radiofrequency Ablation

What is radiofrequency (RF) ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure using a specialized machine that generates radiofrequency current. A special needle is placed next to the nerve which carries pain from spinal facet joints to the spinal cord. The radiofrequency current is passed through the needle. The current generates heat or other physical forces which interrupts transmission of pain. These nerves recover function slowly with time.

How is the procedure performed?
The procedure is performed under x-ray with the patient lying on her/his stomach. Heart rate and blood pressure are monitored, most patients receive medication for sedation. The skin is anesthetized and then the needles are placed under x-ray guidance.

How long does the procedure take?
It takes between 60 to 120 minutes, depending on the site of treatment and the number of treatments that need to be performed.

How long does the effect last?
The effect of the procedure is expected to last 9 months or more, but there is great variability among patients.

May RF treatment be repeated?
It depends on how long it takes for the nerve function to return. In general, because of risks of repeated x-ray exposure, we do not recommend more than one treatment per year.

What are the complications of RF?
Many patients report soreness in the are treated for a few days. Rare complications include infection, bleeding and nerve damage.

Who can have the procedure?
Prior to initial radiofrequency, you are required to have two successful diagnostic nerve blocks performed. (See medial branch blocks.)

Who can not have the procedure?
If you are taking blood thinners (Coumadin, Plavix, Ticlid or others) or antibiotics, have an active infection, or have a bleeding disorder you should not have the procedure without further discussion. Please warn us of any allergies you have, especially to local anesthetics, X-ray dye and latex.

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