Patients who suffer from chronic low back and neck pain and who have not responded to common pain management interventions such as medications and physical therapy may be candidates for radiofrequency lesioning.
Radiofrequency lesioning (RFL) is a procedure that uses electrical impulses to interrupt nerve conduction. RFL is most commonly used on the facet joint nerves, sacroiliac joint nerves and peripheral nerves. An advantage of RFL is that it allows for the interruption of pain signals for an extended period of time. Generally, a patient can expect pain relief for 6 to 9 months.
Radiofrequency lesioning is done under fluoroscopic (X-Ray) guidance to assist in precise needle placement. By using a special radiofrequency needle and microelectrode, the tissue at the site of pain is stimulated by a small radiofrequency current. This current generates heat and blocks the pain pathways. Local anesthetic is used to numb the area before the procedure begins. RFL is an outpatient procedure that takes between 30 and 60 minutes. The patient can return home after the procedure.
Approximately 80-90% of patients get significant relief from chronic back and neck pain with radiofrequency lesioning. Although the pain relief lasts longer than many other procedures, it is not permanent. Sensory nerves regenerate over time, causing pain symptoms to reappear.
There are some risks associated with radiofrequency lesioning including pain and numbness at the site, bleeding and allergic reactions. A more severe, but rare complication is nerve damage, which can lead to a persistent burning sensation and a feeling of numbness or weakness.