Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Back Pain: Am I a Candidate?

Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Back Pain: Am I a Candidate?

Radiofrequency ablation is a safe, minimally invasive procedure that can give you long-lasting relief from chronic back pain. But is it the best procedure for you? Keep reading to learn the five factors determining if you’re a good candidate.

Radiofrequency ablation is a safe procedure that can give you at least nine months, and sometimes years, of pain relief. But it’s not the best choice for everyone with chronic back pain.

Determining if you’re a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation is a decision you make together with your provider at Alliance Spine Associates. Here, we give you a rundown of the five factors that go into deciding if radiofrequency ablation will work for you.

Factor 1: Understanding radiofrequency ablation

You can’t decide if you want to move forward with radiofrequency ablation unless you understand how the procedure works.

When performing radiofrequency ablation, we use a needlelike device and real-time imaging, tools that allow us to precisely target specific nerves in your spine.

The needle goes through your skin (much like getting an injection) and after it’s touching the nerve, we release a controlled burst of energy (radio waves) through the needle tip. The energy’s heat wounds the nerve.

The wound stops pain the same way as a local anesthetic: It prevents pain signals from traveling through the nerve to your brain. You can only feel pain after your brain gets the message from sensory nerves. Blocking those nerve signals eliminates or substantially relieves your pain.

Factor 2: Back conditions treated with radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is primarily used to ease chronic back pain caused by two conditions, spinal arthritis and sacroiliitis.

Spinal arthritis

The facet joints connecting vertebrae are susceptible to the same degeneration that causes osteoarthritis in your knees and other joints. Daily movement and pressure from supporting your body weight wear down the cartilage that’s needed for smooth spinal movement.

As the degeneration progresses, bones rub together, and bone spurs and inflammation develop, leading to chronic back pain. Medial branch nerves carry pain messages from the joints to your brain. We can ease the pain of spinal arthritis by targeting those nerves with radiofrequency ablation.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

The sacroiliac joints connect your lower spine to each hip. Problems that develop in these joints — inflammation, weak or stretched ligaments, arthritis, or an osteoporotic fracture — often cause lower back pain.

If we determine your chronic back pain begins in a sacroiliac joint, we can use radiofrequency ablation to alleviate your symptoms.

Factor 3: Previous treatments for back pain

Radiofrequency ablation isn’t the first treatment for chronic back pain. We begin your treatment with conservative therapies, such as activity modification, anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections, and physical therapy.

If you’ve already undergone treatment, we can review your records and determine if we should take other conservative steps before turning to a minimally invasive option like radiofrequency ablation.

Factor 4: Health conditions preventing radiofrequency ablation

Most people can safely have radiofrequency ablation. However, you may need to postpone or avoid the procedure if you have an infection near the injection site, neurologic abnormalities, or a condition other than arthritis or sacroiliac dysfunction.

If you take anticoagulant medications, you need to be able to stop them 3-7 days before your radiofrequency ablation procedure. That may pose a roadblock for some people.

Factor 5: Successful diagnostic nerve block

We perform a diagnostic nerve block before moving forward with radiofrequency ablation. During a nerve block, we inject a local anesthetic into the nerve we plan to ablate. 

If the anesthetic successfully relieves your pain, then we go ahead with the ablation. But if the nerve block doesn’t help, then we need to reevaluate and discuss the next step.

Even if you can’t have radiofrequency ablation, we specialize in numerous interventional treatments that effectively relieve chronic back pain arising from many different health conditions.

Call Alliance Spine Associates today or book an appointment online to learn if radiofrequency ablation can alleviate your chronic back pain.