Radiofrequency lesioning is a pain management treatment used to disrupt nerve signals and provide long-term pain relief. The procedure uses radiofrequency energy – electrical pulses – to destroy nerves and tissues that send pain signals to the brain. Disrupting the communication between the nerves and the brain reduces, and may even eliminate, facet joint pain and related pain in the neck or lower back. Top benefits of radiofrequency lesioning include:
Before performing a radiofrequency lesioning procedure, a diagnostic nerve block is required to identify the nerves sending pain signals to the brain and determine if the treatment will be successful. Once the nerves have been identified, an instrument is placed under the skin, transmitting electrical stimulation to heat the surrounding tissues.
The nerve is heated to approximately 80° Celsius (about the temperature of hot, not boiling water) for a total of 2-3 minutes, destroying the nerve and blocking the pain signals. A local anesthetic is used, sometimes in combination with intravenous (IV) sedation, to ensure patient comfort. The entire radiofrequency lesioning procedure takes about 20-40 minutes.
The body tends to try to re-grow nerves that have been blocked in this manner. However, this process can take up to a year or longer. If successful, radiofrequency lesioning can be done multiple times for extended pain relief.
Radiofrequency lesioning is usually recommended for patients who have not found relief from other pain management treatments, such as physical therapy or nerve blocks. Ideal candidates for treatment are patients with neck or back pain caused by facet joint disease, occipital neuralgia, or other pain from irritated nerves. Patients should also have responded well to local anesthetic blocks and cannot be taking blood-thinning medication to be a candidate for radiofrequency lesioning.
Most patients can return to work as soon as 24-48 hours after the procedure. However, after recovery from sedation, patients must have a trusted friend or family member drive them home. Muscle soreness at the injection site or lower back is common for up to a week after treatment. Ice packs will help, but physicians provide specific post-procedure instructions and medication to keep patients comfortable during recovery. Most people experience significant pain relief within a week. However, it may take up to three or four weeks to feel the full results.
How effective the treatment will be depends on how well a patient responds to the “temporary” or diagnostic block. Patients who have success with radiofrequency lesioning can expect 6 to 9 months of pain relief.