What is radiofrequency lesioning?

Spine pain is the second most frequent pain complaint. Spine pain occurs in 65-80 percent of the population and can be disabling and frightening.

Radiofrequency lesioning of nerves is a safe procedure that may be used to reduce chronic pain by preventing the transmission of pain signals. The radiofrequency lesioning current heats up a small section of nerve tissue to cause a long-lasting interruption in pain signals and reduce pain in that area. The radiofrequency lesioning procedure is sometimes called radiofrequency ablation. It is a non-surgical option for long-lasting pain relief.

What should I know about radiofrequency lesioning?

Your pain management doctor will first identify the nerve or nerves that are sending the pain signals to your brain. The pain management doctor will locate the nerve by taking an x-ray of the area. A diagnostic nerve block is done to ensure that the radiofrequency lesioning procedure will be effective. The radiofrequency lesioning procedure is then performed by a pain management doctor in our ‘state-of-the-art’ fluoroscopy suite. Local anesthesia will be used to reduce any discomfort during the procedure. You will be awake and alert during both the sensory and motor stimulation process to aid in properly pinpointing the placement of the radiofrequency lesioning electrode.

During the radiofrequency lesioning procedure, you will lie on either your stomach or back. After you receive the anesthesia, an instrument is placed under the skin through which electrical stimulation is given to heat the surrounding tissue. Under the guidance of the x-ray, your pain management doctor will then insert the needle into the exact target area. A microelectrode is then inserted through the needle to begin the stimulation process. The purpose of the stimulation process is to help your doctor determine if the electrode is in the best area for treatment and pain relief. Once the location is verified, radiofrequency lesioning is ready to begin. A small radiofrequency current will travel through the electrode into the surrounding tissue, causing the tissue to heat and eliminate the pain pathways. The amount of time the procedure takes varies based on how many nerves are being treated.

What happens after the radiofrequency lesioning procedure?

Following the radiofrequency lesioning procedure the needle insertion site may be sensitive. The discomfort will subside within a few days. Regular consumption of liquids and food can usually resume soon after the procedure. Radiofrequency lesioning can usually be done on an outpatient basis.

Radiofrequency lesioning blocks pain signals for a prolonged period of time. However, the human body may regenerate the pain pathways. Therefore, it is not unusual that radiofrequency lesioning may need to be repeated, but most patients report longer-lasting relief than with other spinal injections which are commonly done with local anesthetics and steroids. Results usually last between 3 and 9 months. Radiofrequency lesioning may take up to a week to reach its maximum pain-reducing effect.

Radiofrequency lesioning will not limit your day-to-day activities. You should be able to resume your normal activities, including work, as soon as you feel able. However, any preexisting physical restrictions you have prior to the procedure may still remain.

Who should not have the radiofrequency lesioning procedure?

  • People taking blood thinning medication (e.g. Coumadin®, Plavix®)
  • Someone who has an active infection
  • People who did not respond to local anesthetic blocks

For additional information on radiofrequency lesioning, please click to Request an Appointment.