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The Pros and Cons of Radio Frequency Treatment for Chronic Back Pain

Radiofrequency neurotomy, also called radiofrequency ablation or injury, is a procedure that intentionally injures nerves to prevent the brain from sending and processing pain signals. It is a minimally invasive surgical procedure reserved for those with chronic pain who have not found relief with more conservative treatment methods.

Radiofrequency treatments can be used in patients with pain from a degenerative disc, facet joint, or sacroiliac (SI) joint. Guided by fluoroscopy, an electrode is inserted into the body and placed on the target nerve. Once properly placed, the electrode heats up to create a nerve injury. A more recent and advanced form of the procedure includes a cooling phase; This increases the impact area of ​​the electrode and can be useful in certain locations on the body.

This treatment is not a permanent solution; over time, the nerves heal and the pain returns. It is important to remember that radiofrequency is a treatment that addresses the symptom of pain, not the initial cause of it. Please review the following pros and cons before deciding if you want to have this procedure.


For people who are unable to perform their daily activities or work due to pain, a procedure such as radiofrequency neurotomy can be tremendously positive. If effective, the procedure can allow people to return to work and perform basic daily activities such as walking without excessive pain.

The results of radiofrequency treatment can last up to a year or two, which can make it more attractive than steroid injections, another common treatment for SI back and joint pain.

Neurotomy is a less invasive procedure than other surgical methods to eliminate joint and disc pain, particularly fusion surgery. Fusion creates a rigid segment between the vertebrae or pelvic bone and the sacrum to inhibit painful movement due to instability. The procedure comes at a high price and a number of risks, including accelerated degeneration of the facet joints and spinal discs near the fused joint. Radiofrequency injuries can provide enough pain relief to avoid more invasive surgery.

Research indicates that this procedure is helpful to some extent for about 70% of those who receive it and that it can decrease dependence on expensive and dangerous pain relievers. See http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/studies-published-in-pain-medicine-demonstrate-effectiveness-of-minimally-invasive-cooled-radiofrequency-treatment-for-low-back-pain-194185701 .html for a collection of research supporting the use of chilled radiofrequency for SI and discogenic joint pain.


Radiofrequency injuries make pain worse before it improves. The first week after the procedure can be difficult due to local pain and swelling. Some patients who have received the treatment report that it may take a month or two to feel any positive effects.

Some patients who receive the treatment never experience relief. Some may even experience more pain if the procedure was performed incorrectly and the target nerve was not completely damaged; this would cause the pain signal output to increase. See http://www.spine-health.com/forum/treatment/pain-management/rf-neurotomy-ablation-has-worked-you-how-long-did-it-take-notice-res to read reviews of the procedure of various people who have received it.

It must be remembered that this treatment is not a cure; it just masks the pain. Whether your pain is caused by a degenerated disc, facet joint, or SI joint, it is important to continue efforts to resolve the underlying problem. Research alternative medicine to find treatment options you may not be familiar with. Take advantage of your painless or pain-reduced post-radiofrequency treatment to continue exercise therapy, strengthening the core muscles that support your joints and spinal discs.

Radiofrequency neurotomy may be an appropriate treatment for you if pain interferes with your quality of life. However, the focus of any chronic pain treatment plan should be to address the cause of the pain and not just mask the symptom.

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