RFA – What is it? How Does it Work?

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) therapy is a procedure used to fight chronic spinal pain. It is a non-surgical, minimally invasive procedure that has been proven to be very successful in treating people suffering from chronic facet joint pain.

Facet joints are the small joints that link the back of the spine.  The body has six facet joints in the neck, twelve in the mid-back and five in the lower back.  Because these joints are full of nerves and nerve endings, they are one of  the most common sources of chronic back pain.  Facet joints can be easily aggravated by trauma from sports injuries or car accidents, or simply by age-related changes in the body.

To determine if RFA is a viable option for you, first you will undergo a diagnostic facet block, which tests the facet joints as the source of the pain.  During the procedure, the doctor targets the facet joints that are believed to be responsible for your discomfort.  If the pain is alleviated after the facet block, the doctor can confirm that those particular facet joints are indeed responsible for the pain, indicating that you would benefit from RFA treatment.

During Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), radio waves generate heat around the nerves that supply the facet joints, or media branch nerves.  When a person suffers from facet joint pain, these nerves carry pain signals to the spinal cord and, ultimately, to the brain.  This restricts motion, causes muscle spasms and often prevents the body’s natural healing processes from occurring.  However, the heat that is generated during radiofrequency ablation disarms these nerves, rendering them unable to transmit pain signals to the brain – thus providing long-lasting relief.

For many patients, RFA allows a far greater level of activity, while lessening their reliance on pain medication.  The procedure usually takes under an hour, and is performed under direct visualization using digital fluoroscopy.  This enables the treatment to be safe and relatively painless.

Pain relief achieved through RFA is often long lasting and is sometimes permanent.  If the effects of RFA should wear off, it is generally safe for the patient to repeat the procedure.  If the pain does return when the nerves regenerate, it is generally not as severe as it was before the ablation.

For more information about Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) procedures at Performance Rehabilitation & Integrated Medicine call our Watchung NJ office at 908-754-1960.