Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) also called rhizotomy or neurotomy is a novel non-surgical technique which employs radiofrequency waves to produce heat that damages the nerves transmitting pain signal to the brain. This procedure is performed to treat painful facet joints in the spine that usually cause chronic low back pain and neck pain.
Radiofrequency ablation treatment is considered only after it is confirmed that the cause of back pain lies in the facet joints, by performing a diagnostic facet joint injection. Facet joint injection relieves pain for a short duration whereas radiofrequency ablation can keep you pain-free for a longer period of time.
Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive technique and therefore administration of general anaesthesia is not required. You will be conscious throughout the procedure and lying on your stomach. Only a small area over your back which requires treatment is cleansed and numbed. This procedure is performed under the guidance of fluoroscopy. The fluoroscope is a special kind of X-ray machine that helps doctors to visualize the placement of the needle electrode when it is inserted.
During the procedure, your doctor will direct a special radiofrequency needle electrode close to the facet joint in such a manner that the needle tip lies almost near to the medial branch nerve. The needle tip is then heated so that the nerve gets cauterized and destroyed, subsequently reducing the pain. This procedure may last for about an hour or two.