Radiofrequency neurotomy (also called radiofrequency ablation or lesioning) is a minimally invasive procedure that can provide lasting relief to those suffering from facet joint pain. In fact, multiple clinical studies show that radiofrequency neurotomy significantly reduces pain severity and frequency for 1 to 2 years in the majority of patients.
Radiofrequency neurotomy involves applying heat to certain nerve pathways to "shut off" the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It is performed on an outpatient basis and requires only local anesthetic and mild sedation, alleviating the possible complications of open surgery and general anesthesia. It has a high success rate low complication rate, and is covered by Medicare and most private insurers.
Benefits of radiofrequency ablation include:
- Pain relief for up to 2 years
- Significant and longer lasting pain relief compared to steroid injections
- Low complication and morbidity rates
- Appreciable pain relief compared to surgery: Nearly half of back pain sufferers are not helped by surgery
- Greater range of motion
- Lower use of analgesics
- Improved quality of life
- Short recovery time
Use the online physician locator to find a radiofrequency ablation specialist in your area.
Radiofrequency Ablation Patient Brochure (121 KB, PDF)
Radiofrequency Ablation - Patient Perspective 2 (2:24)
Part Number: 1000-001-192 Rev None
Brad Child – “I first noticed my pain about 14 years ago. I was originally in a car accident and about a year after my car accident I started to notice chronic pain that was actually worse than the actual injury itself. The pain was so excruciating that just normal daily activities were difficult to do. I was in serious, extreme, chronic pain. The pain continued for 14 years, I tried multiple, different specialists, doctors, and physical therapy. That’s how I found the doctors able to help me with my life. Before I had the treatment, I was probably taking about eight to ten doses of pain medication on a daily basis just to try to make it through the day.”
Tory L. McJunkin, M.D., Arizona Pain Specialists - “When I first saw Brad in the office I realized that he had been in severe pain for quite some time and so I thought radiofrequency would be a good option to give him long-term relief. The procedure itself is minimally invasive. Usually it takes thirty minutes or less to perform the procedure and they get to go home that same day and start experiencing benefits and pain relief shortly after that.”
Brad Child – “After the radiofrequency procedure, I felt immediate relief getting off the table. I’m enjoying, I think, regular things in life. I would say that my life was like a blank coloring book, just figures and pictures, black and white. That was the hope of my future. And now since I’ve had the radiofrequency procedure, I’m actually filling in those colors.”
Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure Animation (:47)
Part Number: 1000-001-176 Rev None
Intro Disclaimer: The following video is for educational purposes only; Stryker is not dispensing medical advice, and the information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating any health issue. If a patient has experienced problems linked with usage of the associated devices, please contact Stryker's Customer Service department at 800-253-3210. For more information, please consult your healthcare provider.
In elderly patients, back pain is frequently caused by a painful inflammation of a spinal facet joint. This inflammation irritates the surrounding medial branch nerves that, in turn, transmit pain signals to the brain. Through a minimally invasive procedure known as radiofrequency neurolysis, a tiny puncture is made into the skin and a small radiofrequency electrode is introduced. The electrode emits heat generating radio waves that disable the medial branch nerve. With the affected nerve disabled, pain signals are no longer transmitted to the brain.
Closing Disclaimer: The information provided by Stryker Interventional Spine is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician to discuss any questions you may have regarding your medical condition and the most appropriate treatment option for you.
Inflamed nervous tissue
Needles guided into treatment area
Radiofrequency current heats surrounding nerve tissues to create lesion
Treated nervous tissue is no longer inflamed
Your doctor will confirm your diagnosis by making sure that you’ve had at least 2 successful medial branch blocks. If you are a good candidate, your doctor will ask you for the following information:
- Current medications, including herbal supplements, and their dosages
- Drug, iodine, or latex allergies
- Current health conditions
Your physician or the healthcare staff will also request that you:
- Do not take aspirin, ASA-containing products (including Alka-Seltzer® or Pepto-Bismol®) or herbal remedies for 5 days before your procedure
- Do not use ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) for 3 days before your procedure
- Do not eat or drink anything for at least 6 hours before your procedure, except necessary medications with sips of water
- Arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure
Radiofrequency neurotomy is performed while you are awake but sedated. To begin, the area to be treated is numbed with a local anesthetic. Using x-ray guidance, your doctor will insert a needle and electrode into the treatment location. After confirming correct placement, a high-frequency electrical current is passed through the electrode, heating up and lesioning the sensory nerve. Once the procedure is complete, the needle and electrode are removed.
Typically patients go home within 1 to 3 hours. You may experience some initial discomfort immediately after the procedure, but most patients are able to return to work and their normal daily activities within 24 to 48 hours. After a few days, you should notice a marked decrease in pain and continued improvement over the next several weeks. You can expect pain relief lasting up to 2 years. Because nerves do repair themselves, your pain may return, but the procedure can be done again with similar results.