What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation uses an electric current to heat up a small area of nerve tissue to stop it from sending pain signals. It can provide lasting relief for people with chronic pain, especially in the lower back, neck and arthritic joints.

How is radiofrequency ablation done?

First, you’ll be given an intravenous medication to relax you. Then, you’ll lie on your stomach or back on an x-ray table.

The doctor will numb an area of your skin with a local anesthetic. Then, he or she will:

  • Insert a thin needle into the area where you feel pain; an x-ray can help your doctor pinpoint the exact area
  • Insert a microelectrode through the needle; your doctor will ask if you feel a tingling sensation; this helps your doctor identify the right area for treatment
  • Send a small radiofrequency current through the electrode to heat your nerve tissue

Usually, after the procedure you can go home the same day.

How effective is radiofrequency ablation?

Most patients have some pain relief after radiofrequency ablation, but the amount varies by cause of pain and location. The relief can last from six to 12 months. For some patients, the relief lasts years.

What are the risks?

The risk of complication from radiofrequency ablation is very low. Serious complications, including infection and bleeding at the incision site, are uncommon.

Temporary side effects can include:

  • Weakness or numbness in your legs
  • Swelling and bruising at the incision site

What happens after the procedure?

You can continue your regular diet and medications immediately, but do not drive or do any rigorous activity for 24 hours after the procedure. Take it easy. You can return to your normal activities the next day.

Is radiofrequency ablation right for you?

Radiofrequency ablation may be right for you if you have chronic pain that does not respond to other treatment, such as pain medication and physical therapy.

Talk to your physician about it. To schedule an evaluation at Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Pain Management call 216.444.PAIN (7246) or 800.392.3353

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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