Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure used to treat facet joint pain in your back, neck, or sacroiliac joint.
Facet joints are found at the back of each vertebra. A needle electrode is used to send electrical currents to the nerves in your facet joint. The electrical currents create heat that damages the nerve so it cannot send pain signals to the brain.
Goals of Radiofrequency Ablation
The goals of treating facet and sacroiliac joints with RFA are to:
- Reduce neck or back pain for longer periods of time, 3-6 months.
- Improve neck and back function to obtain more range of motion, thus allowing you to continue with a physical therapy program.
- Reduce the intake of pain medications,
- Avoid or delay surgery, which could carry additional risks and have a long recovery period.
Types of Radiofrequency Ablation
Three types or variations of RFA that are used to produce heat lesions:
- Conventional continuous radiofrequency (CRF) ablation uses a needle that delivers a continuous current to produce a heat lesion.
- Pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) ablation uses a needle that delivers short bursts of current in between quiet phases when no current is passed.
- Water-cooled radiofrequency (WCRF) ablation uses a specialized needle that is heated up but then cooled by a the flow of water.
CRF and PRF produce well defined small lesions, while WCRF produces larger lesions involving larger tissue areas. All three types of RFA are used to treat facet and sacroiliac joint pain.
When Radiofrequency Ablation Is Considered
Typically, RFA is performed after steroid, epidural, or other injection treatments have been tried in the sacroiliac or facet joint’s nerves for treating pain symptoms.
RFA may be used to treat the following conditions: