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Radiofrequency Neurolysis

Long-term Relief without Surgery or Downtime

The body creates pain to signal when something is wrong with a joint. As connection points between two bones, the joints provide support and flexibility to the body. They withstand a lot of strain and may become damaged by overuse, injuries, or with the onset of arthritis.

While joint pain may be mildly irritating at first, it can become severe and lead to nonstop pain sensations. In order to fix this problem, the pain signals sent out from the damaged joint(s) need to be stopped. Radio frequency neurolysis (RFN), also called Radio frequency Neurotomy or Radio frequency Ablation, is one of the treatments that can accomplish this.

Facts and Information About RFN

  • RFN is a common treatment for facet syndrome, neck and back pain due to damaged joints in the spine.
  • RFN can treat cervicogenic headaches and occipital headaches - two types of headaches that may be caused by damage to the neck joints.
  • RFN can treat sacroiliac joint (SI) disfunction, a common cause of low back pain that can travel to the hip, groin, and leg areas.
  • RFN can be an efficient treatment for knee pain - it disrupts the genicular nerve’s ability to release pain signals from the knee.
  • RFN can be an efficient treatment for shoulder pain - it disrupts the supra-scapular nerve’s ability to release pain signals from the shoulder.

What is Radiofrequency neurolysis?

RFN is a treatment offered by a pain specialist when conservative treatments such as rest, medications, and physical therapy have failed to treat joint pain. This procedure provides long-term relief from joint pain in many areas of the body including the neck, back, pelvis, hips, and knees.

RFN uses heat to lesion and desensitize (turn off) specific nerves in order to stop them from releasing pain signals from a joint. Since the lesioned nerve regrows very slowly, patients can enjoy long-term pain relief for months or even years at a time.

Before RFN is considered, a pain specialist may perform one of the following injections in order to find the specific joint that needs treatment:

  • A joint injection, which places numbing medicine into a painful joint area
  • A nerve block, which places numbing medicine near the nerves that feed a particular joint

How is RFN done?

Before starting the RFN procedure, a numbing medication is applied to the skin overlying the area that is being treated. X-ray guidance is often used to place a special radio frequency needle alongside the nerve that is going to be treated. This needle uses heat to deaden the nerve and to stop it from releasing pain signals from leaving the joint.

Radio frequency neurolysis is performed on an outpatient basis. The procedure typically requires 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how many joints require treatment. It is followed by 30 to 45 minutes of observed recovery time. After RFN, there may be temporary numbness or some mild burning. It may take 2-4 weeks before you feel the full benefits of RFN.

How often should this procedure be done?

RFN is usually effective after one treatment session. Although the nerves that are treated with RFN can regenerate and grow back, this often takes a long time, from 6 months up to 12 months. If necessary, the procedure may be repeated every 6 months to 1 year.

What are the expected results?

Studies show that a majority of people have significant reduction in pain at 6 months and over a third of people maintain that level of relief at 1 year after treatment. Some individuals may have pain relief for up to two years and beyond. Some people treated with RFN improve considerably and are able to delay or avoid surgery and the inconvenience of a long recovery period. This procedure has been performed safely for many years, with excellent outcomes.

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