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Lumbar Radiofrequency Ablation
The goal of a radiofrequency ablation is to prolong the relief received from a medial branch block or facet joint injection. Typically, the radiofrequency ablation relieves pain in the back for up to 6-12 months. Radiofrequency ablations are only performed once a patient receives pain relief from an injection and the appropriate source of pain has been identified.
What is a Lumbar Radiofrequency Ablation?
A radiofrequency ablation interrupts the sensory signal to the involved facet joint through the use of thermal energy that ablates the nerves. After a local skin anesthetic is applied to the patient’s back, the physician guides a needle via fluoroscopy x-ray to the transverse process bone. The needle is positioned over the bone where the nerves are typically located. Thermal energy is then delivered to create a lesion on the nerve, thus disrupting the pain signal.
It only takes about 30 to 90 minutes to complete the entire radiofrequency ablation procedure. Although many patients can return to work the next day, it’s recommended that you do not drive or operate heavy machinery for at least 24 hours after the procedure is complete. There are rarely any complications associated with lumbar facet radiofrequency. However, patients sometimes experience a few lumbar radiofrequency ablation side effects that you should be aware of, including:
- A superficial burning sensation over the treated area, similar to a sunburn
- Light skin numbness over the same area
- Mild headaches or dizziness
- Soreness at the injection site
These are not dangerous side effects, and they generally resolve on their own not long after the procedure. Although every patient is different, nearly 50 percent of patients who undergo radiofrequency ablation experience significant pain relief for over a year. Of the remaining patients, about 50 percent of these will experience pain relief for a shorter amount of time.
How Long Will It Take for the Procedure to Work?
As nerves heal after the procedure is complete, you’ll experience significant improvement in pain. To feel the full effects of lumbar facet radiofrequency, it usually takes about two weeks but can also take up to four weeks. However, the pain relief experienced generally lasts for six months to a year.
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