Radiofrequency Nerve Blocks

What is a Radiofrequency Nerve Block?

Radiofrequency nerve block or radio frequency lesioining is a procedure using a specialized machine to interrupt nerve conduction on a semi-permanent basis. The nerves are usually blocked for a period of 6-9 months.

The basic principle of radio-frequency lesioining is placement of an insulated electrode probe into the target tissue.

When is the radiofrequency nerve block used?

Radiofrequency nerve block is generally used for patients with whom all forms of conservative treatment and etiologic treatments such as surgery, have failed.

In addition, the patient should be free of any significant psychological problems and drug dependency.

Radiofrequency nerve blocks are generally advised for patients experiencing one of the below listed medical conditions:
  • Mechanical neck or low back pain due to facet joint disease
  • Occipital neuralgia
  • Coccygodynia and rectalgia
  • Abdominal (visceral) pain responsive to splanchnic nerve blocks
  • Sympathetically mediated pain
  • Rhizotomy
  • Ganglionotomy
  • RSD/CRPS/SMP involving upper or lower extremities.

In addition, to be a candidate for radiofrequency nerve block, you must have responded well to the local anesthetic blocks.

What is the procedure?

The radiofrequency nerve ablation uses radio waves to produce heat directed at a specific facet joint nerve. The heat destroys the nerve and thus relieves pain.

The patient is required to lie on the stomach when working on the facet joints, low back for lumbar sympathetic nerves and in a sitting position when lesioining the cervical area.

The radiofrequency nerve ablation procedure is similar to a spinal joint injection. However, the only difference is that two needles are inserted. Fluoroscopic guidance is used to correctly position each needle. Once done, the radiofrequency ‘radio waves’ are directed through each needle.

While the ablation process takes about two minutes, the entire procedure takes about 2 hours.

What are the benefits of Radiofrequency Nerve Block?

The radiofrequency nerve block has a series of benefits as compared to the other forms of pain relief. Here we list the main benefits:
  • The lesion size can be accurately controlled, thus allowing lesioning of small nerves without damaging nearby motor and other sensory nerves.
  • Recovery is rapid and usually uneventful, allowing the patient to return to normal activity very soon.
  • Nerve lesion is usually long lasting and heals without neuroma formation.
  • The rate of side effects and complications is relatively low.
  • When pain recurs, nerve lesion can be repeated as necessary.

What are the risk factors involved?

There is a potential of a series of side effects after the procedure. Here we list the main amongst them:
  • Muscle soreness for up to a week afterwards.
  • Deep sunburn type feeling.
  • Hypersensitivity, burning pain or numbness for a few weeks.

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