Radiofrequency ablation (RFA, also called Radiofrequency neurotomy or lesioning) is a minimally invasive procedure used to reduce facet joint pain in the back or neck. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing the ability of those nerves to transmit pain signals from that specific area to the brain.
The nerves to be ablated are identified through injections of local anesthesia (such as lidocaine) prior to the RFA procedure. If the local anesthesia injections provide temporary pain relief, then RFA is performed on the nerve(s) that responded well to the injections. As with many spinal injections, radiofrequency neurotomy is best performed under fluoroscopy (live x-ray) for guidance in properly targeting and placing the needle.
Radiofrequency neurotomy is performed on an outpatient basis and requires only local anesthetic and mild sedation, alleviating the possible complications of open surgery and general anesthesia. The entire radiofrequency ablation procedure usually takes 30 to 90 minutes. It has a high success rate and a low complication rate.
The procedure can provide lasting relief to those suffering. Multiple clinical studies show that radiofrequency neurotomy significantly reduces pain severity and frequency for 1 to 2 years in the majority of patients. Nerves regenerate over time, however, causing the alleviated pain to return. RFA can also be used to help patients with pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis.