FAQ’s on Radiofrequency Ablation in Philadelphia

Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure where the doctor uses electric current to generate heat when applied to the nerves. This will block nerve pain signal transmission for up to 6-9 months.

Am I a candidate for radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation is recommended for patients with chronic neck and back pain related to:

  • Facet joint syndrome
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Occipital neuralgia
  • Certain types of abdominal pain
  • Radiculopathy pain
  • Peripheral neuropathies
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
  • Headaches
  • Neck/back pain
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Sympathetically mediated pain

What nerves are targeted with radiofrequency ablation?

  • Sphenopalatine ganglion – This bundle of nerves supply the face and head. Radiofrequency energy is used to destroy nerves that cause headaches and face pain.
  • Medial branch nerves – These are inside the tiny facet joints along the posterior region of the spinal bones (vertebra). Facet joints connect each vertebra to the one below and above it. The medial branch nerves are responsible for spinal pain.
  • Ganglion impar – This mass of nerves lie in front of the tailbone (coccyx). These nerves supply the very low back region, as well as the tailbone region.

What are the benefits of radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation disrupts nerve conduction. This reduces pain and symptoms of radiculopathy, such as leg pain and numbness. The procedure is quite effective, with around 70% of patients reporting good results after the block. In addition, the block only takes 20 minutes to perform.

What can I expect before the procedure?

The doctor will go over the pros and cons of the radiofrequency ablation with you, and have you sign a consent form. The nurse will have you change into a gown, and place an IV catheter in your arm to administer a mild sedative and fluids if necessary. Be sure to have someone to drive you home.

How is the radiofrequency ablation procedure performed?

The doctor will first position the patient on the procedure table. To access the spinal facet nerves, the patient is placed on his/her stomach with pillows for support. The skin is cleansed with an antiseptic solution, and the doctor first numbs the skin and deeper tissues with a local anesthetic. Fluoroscopy (x-ray guidance) is used to place introducer needles into position near the nerves. Once in position, the probe at the end of the needle emits mild radiofrequency waves to deaden and destroy the nerves. Once done, the introducer needles are removed, and bandages are applied.

Does the radiofrequency ablation hurt?

The doctor will numb the skin, so there is a slight pinching sensation. When the introducer needles are inserted, there is some mild pain involved, but many patients report no pain during the procedure.

What can I expect after the procedure?

A nurse will monitor you in the recovery area for 15-30 minutes. Expect mild muscle soreness at the injection sites, which only lasts for a few days. You can use ice packs to control the discomfort. You should go home and rest for the remainder of the day, and gradually return to activities as tolerated. Do not soak in a pool, tub, or spa for 2-3 days following the procedure.

How long will the effects of the radiofrequency ablation procedure last?

Most patients have some pain relief within 3-4 days. The effects of this procedure range from 3-18 months.

What risks are associated with the radiofrequency ablation procedure?

The radiofrequency ablation procedure is safe and effective, but side effects and complications do occur. The risks depend on the sites that are ablated. These usually include infection, bleeding, nerve damage, and blood vessel injury. Common side effects are soreness at the injection site, bruising, and electrical burn.

Does radiofrequency ablation work?

According to a recent clinical study, the success rate of radiofrequency ablation was 86%, with the majority of patient reporting moderate pain relief. There is much evidence to support the use of this procedure for chronic pain, and it is safe and effective.


Dreyfuss P, Halbrook B, Pauza K, Joshi A, McLarty J, & Bogduk N (2000). Efficacy and validity of radiofrequency neurotomy for chronic lumbar zygapophysial joint pain. Spine, 25(10):1270-7.

Nath S, Nath CA, & Pettersson K (2008). Percutaneous lumbar zygapophysial (facet) joint neurotomy using radiofrequency current, in the management of chronic low back pain. A randomized double-blind trial. Spine, 33(12):1291-7.

Schofferman J & Kine G (2004). Effectiveness of repeated radiofrequency neurotomy for lumbar facet pain. Spine, 29(21): 2471-2473.