Is Radiofrequency Ablation Safe?

Is Radiofrequency Ablation Safe?

Before you feel pain, a nerve somewhere in your body first sends a signal to your spinal cord and brainstem and then to your brain. This system helps us take care of ourselves if we sustain a cut or twist an ankle. 

However, sometimes the body can send pain signals to the brain even when nothing is really wrong, which can lead to chronic pain. Radiofrequency ablation is a safe treatment that can mask these pain signals.

Kenneth Varley, MD, a pain management physician at Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, helps his patients find relief from chronic pain with radiofrequency ablation. In this blog, Dr. Varley explains what radiofrequency ablation is and how it may be able to help you

What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation uses an electrical current to heat up and disable nerve tissue, thus preventing pain signals from being sent to the brain. To perform the procedure, Dr. Varley first numbs the treatment site. Then he uses X-ray guidance to direct a very thin needle to the nerve sending the pain signals. Finally, Dr. Varley sends a radiofrequency current through an electrode to heat up and disable the problematic nerve tissue.

When is radiofrequency ablation used?

Doctors often recommend radiofrequency ablation to patients with chronic pain who haven’t responded to more conservative interventions, such as physical therapy or medications. And doctors usually recommended it before surgery since it’s much less invasive than surgery. The procedure is currently only approved for back, neck, hip, and knee pain.

Is radiofrequency ablation safe? 

Yes, radiofrequency ablation is safe when performed by a licensed practitioner. It’s still important to know the potential side effects of radiofrequency ablation, so you can make an informed decision about whether the procedure is right for you. 

When you undergo radiofrequency ablation, you may experience

  1. Temporary increased pain at the treatment site
  2. Temporary numbness or weakness
  3. Swelling or discoloration at the incision site 

Rare complications include nerve damage, infection, and bleeding. 

Does radiofrequency ablation work?

Radiofrequency ablation comes with few potential risks and has a success rate of about 80%. The Cleveland Clinic reports that most patients feel relief from radiofrequency ablation, with some patients free of pain for months and even years.

When performed by a licensed and experienced professional like Dr. Varley, radiofrequency ablation is safe and often successful.