Radiofrequency Ablation vs. Steroid Injections

Radiofrequency Ablation vs. Steroid Injections

Chronic pain in your back causes a lot of issues in your work life and your home life. It’s not only uncomfortable, but it also may affect your mobility and ability to perform normal activities. Luckily, there are a lot of treatment options when it comes to back pain, including radiofrequency ablation and steroid injections.

At Southern Pain Specialists in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Kenneth Varley offers a number of state-of-the-art treatments for chronic pain in your body. Dr. Varley is a board-certified pain management specialist, and he can help you determine the best method of treatment to finally get your pain under control.

Understanding radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation is a type of treatment that damages nerve tissue in an area that causes pain so the nerve can’t send pain signals to your brain. It does this using heat, which causes a small portion of your nerve tissue to die.

To perform a radiofrequency ablation, Dr. Varley uses X-ray imaging to guide a hollow needle into the area of your spine where a nerve is causing pain. Once the needle is in the right place, Dr. Varley inserts a microelectrode through the needle. The microelectrode emits a small electrical current, which heats the nerve tissue.

There’s very little risk associated with radiofrequency ablation, and patients often feel relief for up to a year at a time, or longer in some cases. The other tissues around the nerve aren’t damaged, making it a safe procedure.

What is a steroid injection?

Steroid injections are another effective treatment for chronic pain in your back or other joints in your body. These injections use corticosteroids, man-made anti-inflammatory medications that mimic the hormone cortisol in your body.

One of the main goals of cortisol is to control inflammation throughout your body. This is why steroid injections are often successful in relieving pain, because they’re powerful anti-inflammatories.

Steroid injections help relieve pain from a number of conditions, including bursitis, tendonitis, and arthritis. They’re often used in your joints and spine to relieve discomfort that’s due to inflammation or injury.

The injections include a local anesthetic, which provides a few hours of pain relief right away, and the steroid typically kicks in within a few days. The pain relief can last for several months at a time, depending on the severity of your condition.

Which treatment is right for you?

Dr. Varley helps you figure out what type of treatment is best for your specific condition. Radiofrequency ablation and steroid injections work very differently and are each effective for various conditions.

Typically, radiofrequency ablation is used for spine conditions that cause chronic pain. If you have sacroiliac joint pain or spondylosis, this treatment is for you. Radiofrequency ablation is also used on other areas of your body, including your neck and knees. 

Steroid injections are also used in your spine to treat pain. However, they use medication instead of an electrical current to provide pain relief. Because of this, the results of steroid injections don’t last as long as radiofrequency ablation.

Both forms of treatment can help relieve arthritis pain. Steroid injections are typically used in any joint that’s affected by arthritis, whereas radiofrequency ablation is most often used in your spine and neck to treat nerve-related pain.

Dr. Varley and his team take your symptoms, your pain level, and how the discomfort is affecting your life into account when forming a treatment plan. Imaging studies such as X-rays or an MRI help determine what’s causing your pain and direct the correct route of treatment to help you get rid of your pain.