Healthy Living

What is a Nerve Ablation?

What is a Nerve Ablation?

Nerve ablation is the destruction of nerves to minimize particular types of chronic pain by inhibiting the transfer of pain signals. There are various ways of ablating nerves. For instance by utilizing heat, cold or chemicals.

The first thing that a doctor does is discovering the nerves where the pain signals are originated. This is done using a nerve block which makes certain nerves senseless.

X-rays may be needed in the procedure to determine the insertion point of the medical tool into your body. You will be given a local anesthetic drug. Your doctor will then remove and destroy the nerve tissue using medical equipment which will be put underneath your skin. 

You may experience a prickling sensation as a result of the ablation but this will depend on how the procedure is carried out. The damaged nerves will no longer be able to transmit signals to the brain. However, they usually strive to recover. If the nerves grow back, the effectiveness of the ablation is not permanent as it will last mostly for about six to nine months. 

Nerve ablation is performed in a surgery room and lasts for about 20 minutes to an hour. The duration depends on the number and the type of nerves that are targeted by the procedure.  Your pain will not be relieved after the procedure if the incorrect nerve(s) is/are blocked. 

Not everybody experiences reduced pain after nerve ablation. There are high chances that nerve ablation would not be of help to you if your pain has resisted other forms of treatments like diagnostic local anesthesia and nerve blocks.


Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation causes minimal invasion and is normally performed under local anesthesia and light sedation. Just like most spinal injections, radiofrequency neurotomy needs a live x-ray to guide the doctor correctly to the target area and the insertion point of the needle to prevent injuries.


How is Radiofrequency Ablation done?

The following steps are followed during a radiofrequency ablation:

  • An intravenous (IV) line is usually inserted for the administration of the sedation medication.
  • The patient is required to lie on a special table where the neck and the back skin is cleaned thoroughly.
  • The patient is given anesthetic medication to numb a small region of the skin.
  • As guided by the x-ray, the doctor inserts a radiofrequency needle into the branch nerves.
  • A small quantity of electrical current is usually transmitted via the needle to an area adjacent to the pain-causing nerve. The current revives the pain for a short time and makes the neck or the back muscles twitch.
  • The pain is minimized by numbing the target nerve while it is being scarred.
  • The needle tip is heated by radiofrequency and the nerve is wound using the hot needle. Then it becomes unable to transmit pain signals.
  • This procedure is done again to other nerves which transmit pain signals.


Conditions Treated with Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency ablation can be a successful treatment for long-standing low-back as well as neck pain or pain associated with joint degeneration as a result of arthritis. 


How Long does the Effectiveness of Radiofrequency Ablation last in Reducing Pain?

The intensity of pain reduction is different since it depends on the origin and location of the pain. The effectiveness of radiofrequency ablation in reducing pain may last from six months to a year or even more. The majority of people who receive RFA have reduced pain after the procedure.


How Safe is Radiofrequency Ablation?

RFA has demonstrated itself as a low-risk and successful method of treating some types of pain. Extremely few complications arise from the procedure. However, it has low chances of infection development and bleeding at the area where the needle was inserted. You will learn more about your risk from your physician.


Adverse Effects of Radiofrequency Ablation

After having an RFA, you will most likely experience discomfort such as swelling and bruises at the treated area. However, you will recover from these problems after a few days.


Who does not Qualify for Radiofrequency Ablation?

Just like other medical procedures, radiofrequency ablation is not applicable to everybody. People with serious infections or bleeding issues should not receive radiofrequency ablation. Your physician will notify if you do not qualify to have the procedure.


Preparation for Radiofrequency Ablation

You are supposed to observe the following precautions while preparing for RFA:

  • Avoid eating anything before six hours to the scheduled procedure. Nevertheless, it will be okay if you take clear fluids before two hours to the start of the procedure.
  • Adjust your insulin dose on the day of your procedure if you use the medicine to treat diabetes. Your doctor will direct you on the change. Carry your diabetes medicine on that day to take it later after having RFA.
  • Continue taking the rest of the medication with a little amount of water. Carry all your drugs on the procedure day to take them later after having RFA.
  • Plan to get somebody to drive you home after the treatment. Avoid driving or operating machinery for at least a day after the treatment. 


What Should I expect During Radiofrequency Ablation?

A doctor will evaluate and determine if you need RFA. If the assessment shows that you need the procedure, the doctor will give you detailed information about the procedure such as the probable complications and adverse effects.  All the questions that you have will be answered by the doctor.

Before the procedure starts, the doctor may insert an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your arm. You may be put under local anesthesia and slight sedation to minimize any discomfort experienced during the procedure. 

You may be alert as the doctor carries out the procedure to help in the proper assessment of the whole process. Inquire about any specific issues that may be bothering you before the start of the procedure.

After administering a local anesthetic, your doctor will insert a tiny needle through the muscle where you feel the pain. The X-ray will help the doctor insert the needle to the precise target point. The simulation process will start after the physician inserts a microelectrode via the needle.

As the procedure goes on you will be required to notify the doctor whether you can feel a prickling sensation. Stimulation process helps the doctor know whether the electrode is reaching the exact target treatment area.

After the verification of the position of the needle and the electrode, your doctor transmits a small quantity of radiofrequency current via the electrode into adjacent tissues heating it. You are not supposed to feel discomfort while the tissues are being heated.


After Radiofrequency Ablation

After an RFA:

  • You will be taken to a particular room where your blood pressure and heartbeat will be monitored. 
  • The injection area will be covered with a bandage.
  • You will be offered a beverage and a nurse will help you analyze the instructions on what you should do after being discharged. 
  • You will need somebody to take you home.


Can I Start Doing My Usual Activities Again After Radiofrequency Ablation?

There are some things that you are supposed to do after RFA. They include:

  • Avoid driving or operating machinery for not less than a day after the procedure.
  • You may start taking your usual meals again.
  • Avoid engaging in strenuous activities within 24 hours after RFA. 
  • Avoid bathing for 24 to 48 hours after the procedure. A shower is recommended during this period.
  • You can uncover the wound by removing the bandage while going to sleep.

Possible Radiofrequency Ablation Side Effects

After having a radiofrequency ablation, you may experience:

  • Numbness in your leg or legs. However, the problem goes away after a few hours.
  • Slight discomfort in your back. This normally disappears two or three days after the procedure. A cold compression on the procedure day and a wet heat for the following days may help in relieving the discomfort. Pain relieving medication may also be of great help.