Arthritis or Osteoarthritis that causes back pain can be a debilitating condition for the people who suffer from it, and a challenging condition for physicians to treat. Arthritis of the back affects the facet joints in the spine and although these joints can be injected, studies have shown that this may only provide temporary pain relief. With the recent technological advances in the field of interventional pain medicine, physicians now have the ability to block the pain from these joints for a much longer period of time.
Radiofrequency ablation is an outpatient procedure in which a specialized needle is used to apply heat directly to the nerves causing pain. After the nerves are heated, they are unable to continue sending pain signals. In addition to back pain, radiofrequency ablation is often used to treat buttock pain, posterior thigh pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and headaches. Studies have shown that radiofrequency ablation can reduce pain severity and frequency in the majority of patients with facet arthritis for up to one to two years.
Radiofrequency ablation is carried out in two steps. In the first procedure, which is diagnostic, a medication is injected into the back over the sensory nerves of the facet joints, also known as the medial branch nerves. This medication serves to temporarily block the pain signals.
If a patient gets pain relief from the diagnostic procedure, the doctor will move forward with the second step, which is the actual radiofrequency ablation.