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Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive medical procedure used to treat chronic pain. In this lesson, we will explore the procedure and its possible side effects.

What Is Radiofrequency Ablation?

Advances in medical technology have enabled us to come up with some cool ways to treat various conditions. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a medical procedure used to treat chronic pain. It’s minimally invasive and performed as an outpatient procedure, usually lasting less than 90 minutes.

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As mentioned, RFA is usually used to treat chronic pain, especially in the neck or back. It works by using the electrical current produced by radio waves to target a specific nerve area. About 70% of patients experience pain relief lasting between 3 and 18 months.

The Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure

If a physician identifies a patient as a good fit for RFA, he will instruct the patient to fast (avoid eating) 6-8 hours beforehand. The procedure starts by inserting an intravenous (IV) needle to administer a local anesthetic (numbing agent) and perhaps a mild sedative. The patient is kept awake throughout the procedure, but shouldn’t feel any pain due to the anesthetic.

The doctor then uses an X-ray machine called a fluoroscope to find the target nerve and its surrounding tissue. Once the site is found, a hollow needle is inserted in the tissue. A microelectrode is inserted through the needle, and the radio waves being producing heat.

As heat is produced, it creates a heat lesion on the tissue. This lesion acts as a blocker, preventing pain signals from being sent back to the brain.

A fluoroscope machine uses X-rays to find the target nerve and its surrounding tissues.

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Side Effects

The local anesthetic administered during the RFA procedure should prevent any immediate pain. Side effects following the procedure are usually limited. There might be swelling or bruising at the site the needle was inserted. It takes a few days for the affected muscles to heal.As with any procedure involving a needle, there is also a risk of bleeding or infection at the insertion site, but the area is cleaned beforehand, so these side effects are rare.In the first 24 hours following the procedure, the patient should avoid driving or doing any strenuous activities.

During the first few hours, the patient may experience leg numbness, but this dissipates as the local anesthesia wears off. (Long-term leg weakness or numbness that doesn’t go away merits a follow-up visit to the doctor or emergency room as soon as possible.) Mild back pain may occur during the 2-3 days following the procedure, but this can be treated with ice packs and medication.

Cancer Treatment

In some cases, RFA may be used to target and destroy cancer cells, though this is a less common use of the procedure.

When used in this way, it can treat cancer in the bones, kidneys, liver, lungs, or prostate. However, it’s typically only used when surgery isn’t an option.

Lesson Summary

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat chronic pain.

It’s performed as an outpatient procedure and the results last up to 18 months. Specifically, a fluoroscope is used to find a problematic nerve causing pain and a microelectrode is inserted in the surrounding tissue. Radio waves create an electrical current that heats up the microelectrode, forming a lesion on the tissue. This lesion essentially blocks pain signals from being sent from the nerve to the brain. Side effects are minimal and usually dissipate within the first few days after the procedure.’Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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