Pain Management

July 8, 2015

Can Radiofrequency Rhizotomy Help Eliminate My Chronic Back Pain?


If you are suffering from chronic back pain, the radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure may be the key to relief.

Chronic pain costs Americans $500 billion a year in medical bills and lost productivity. If you suffer from chronic back pain and cannot, or do not wish to, undergo an invasive spinal surgery, radiofrequency rhizotomy may be a viable option for you.

What Is Radiofrequency Rhizotomy?
Chronic back pain is often the result of facet joint issues in the lumbar region of your lower back. Two facet joints link each vertebra in your spine together. Each contains a medial nerve, which controls sensation within the joint. If too much pressure is placed on the nerve, chronic pain results.

A radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure provides long-lasting pain relief by breaking the medial nerve’s link to your brain. Your doctor will inject a sterile needle electrode into your lower back, use x-rays to guide it to the affected joint, and cauterize the nerve that causes you pain.

Because the medial branch nerve is not connected to your arms or legs, impairing it will not limit mobility or sensation in other parts of your body.

Preparing for the Procedure
The first step in preparing for radiofrequency rhizotomy is to confirm that a medial nerve is causing your pain. Through a diagnostic injection or an MRI, your doctor will look for possible nerve blocks or other sources of tension.

If your doctor identifies a nerve block, he will likely recommend a radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure and go over steps to prepare for it, including:

  • Avoiding aspirin for at least two weeks before the procedure
  • Stopping all blood-thinning and anti-inflammatory drugs for at least five days before the procedure
  • Refraining from eating, drinking, or taking pain medications for at least four hours before the procedure
  • Gathering all of your imaging study records (such as x-rays, MRIs, or CT scans) and bringing them to your doctor
  • Arranging for someone to transport you to and from the procedure

In addition, if your doctor approves IV sedation, you will need to be observed for at least 12 hours after the procedure is over. Although the risk of complications from the radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure is low, you can have an allergic reaction to the anesthetic. Be sure to let your doctor know about any allergies and any medical history that might impact your treatment.

After the Radiofrequency Rhizotomy Procedure
As a result of the anesthetics, you will likely feel numb immediately after your procedure. The anesthetics usually wear off within 8 hours of the procedure, after which your back pain will return and possibly become more severe – a result of cauterizing your nerve.

This is a normal side effect of the procedure, and should wear off within a week as scar tissue forms over the burn wound. You should experience full relief from chronic back pain within four weeks of the procedure. Keep a record of any pain or other symptoms that you experience, and contact your doctor if pain persists longer than four weeks.

Your doctor may recommend that you undergo physical therapy to help you recover from your radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure. Therapy will help you strengthen your core and back muscles, giving your body more stability to keep back pain at bay.

Your medial branch nerve will eventually grow back, but the more you do to build core strength, the less likely you are to need additional surgery.

To learn more about what a radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure can do for your chronic back pain, contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital at (877) 918-7020.


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*Photo Courtesy of staff. “Blausen gallery 2014” via Wikimedia Commons, Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762.

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