Radiofrequency Ablation for Joint Pain: What to Expect

Radiofrequency Ablation for Joint Pain: What to Expect

Do you have chronic joint pain? If so, radiofrequency ablation may be able to give you the relief you need. Kenneth Varley, MD, of Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, is an expert in treating joint pain. In this blog, Dr. Varley explains what radiofrequency ablation is and how it can eliminate joint pain.

Causes of joint pain

Joint pain can strike due to injury, overuse, or as the result of a condition, such as arthritis. Arthritis is a common cause of joint pain, and there are a number of types, including inflammatory arthritis and degenerative arthritis. 

Inflammatory arthritis includes rheumatoid arthritis, which is a condition where the immune system attacks cartilage, the tissue that protects the ends of bones. As a result, inflammation occurs, which causes pain.

Degenerative arthritis includes osteoarthritis, which is a condition that occurs due to wear and tear of a joint. This causes the cartilage to break down, thus causing bone to rub against bone.

Treating joint pain

If you have joint pain, Dr. Varley will give you a thorough evaluation and discuss your treatment options. Conservative treatments are often tried first, such as the following:

  1. Physical therapy
  2. Pain medications
  3. Heat therapy
  4. Ice
  5. Corticosteroid injections

However, if conservative treatments don’t provide significant relief, Dr. Varley may suggest radiofrequency ablation.

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that targets the nerve tissue responsible for sending the pain signals. Radiofrequency ablation is done in the office or in an outpatient setting. Depending on the area he’s working on, you’ll lay on your back or stomach.

First, Dr. Varley will inject the targeted area with a local anesthetic to numb the area. He may also give you light sedation depending on your case. Then, using X-ray guidance, he’ll insert a thin needle to the problematic nerve tissue.

Then he’ll insert a microelectrode through the needle to the nerve tissue and send a mild electrical pulse through the microelectrode. The energy will then heat up — or ablate — the nerve tissue, which will prevent it from sending pain signals to your brain.

After radiofrequency ablation

Because radiofrequency ablation is minimally invasive, you’ll likely be able to go home the same day of your procedure, with few restrictions, if any. If you had mild sedation for the procedure, you’ll need someone to drive you home afterwards. You may have some soreness or discomfort at the site for a day or two.

After your procedure, you should experience pain relief right away. In many cases, relief lasts for 6-12 months. Some people experience relief that lasts for years.