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Is Lumbar Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation Effective for Chronic Lower Back Pain?

 Is Lumbar Radiofrequency Nerve Ablation Effective for Chronic Lower Back Pain?

Pain can be acute, intermittent, dull, sharp, excruciating, debilitating, and depressing. In all its forms, pain disrupts your life, but when it becomes chronic, as it does for some 60 million Americans, it can outright change your life and even shorten it.

Dr. Jay M. Shah, our double-board certified and Ivy League-trained interventional pain specialist at the SamWell Institute for Pain Management, understands that level of pain and how it impacts you emotionally and mentally. He specializes in breaking the cycle of chronic pain and mental anguish using advanced technology, unparalleled skill, and genuine compassion — exactly what you need when you have chronic lower back pain.

While chronic lower back pain may be common, its potential causes are many and varied, making it tricky to diagnose and treat. That’s why it’s essential to seek the care of an experienced physician like Dr. Shah, renowned for his ability to identify the source of and most effective treatment for chronic lower back pain. Among the many treatments Dr. Shah offers, radiofrequency ablation, also known as a rhizotomy, is one of the most effective. Here, he explains what it is, how it works, and its success rate.

Radiofrequency ablation 101

Radiofrequency (RF) ablation is a targetted, image-guided, and minimally invasive treatment that uses gentle pulses of radiofrequency energy along the painful low back joints, or facet joints, to provide long-term pain relief for a 6-month to 2-year time frame, without the need for any surgical intervention. . This treatment is typically recommended for patients with treatment-resistant neck and back pain, but is also effective at relieving some forms of facial pain, headaches, and arthritic joints.

If Dr. Shah determines you’re a good candidate for lumbar RF nerve ablation for chronic lower back pain, you can expect a quick and painless procedure. You have the option of being awake during the procedure performed under local anesthesia or under light IV sedation to ensure quick and pain-free treatment. The procedure is performed while you are lying on our comfortable procedure table equipped with fluoroscopy, a live X-ray that guides Dr. Shah’s instruments during the treatment for accuracy, precision, and safety. . After numbing your skin, Dr. Shah inserts a technology embedded radiofrequency needle to the exact source of pain along your facet joint. You may feel some mild pressure but no pain. 

Once the needle is in position, Dr. Shah releases an anesthetic to numb the nerve, then activates the RF technology that sends gentle pulses of radiofrequency waves along the nerve that is responsible for sending pain signals into the facet joints of the low back. . It only takes 1-2 minutes to completion the RFA, and Dr. Shah can treat multiple joint levels to provide complete pain relief for your chronic low back pain.  

Lumbar radiofrequency nerve ablation prerequisites

Before you can undergo lumbar RFA and find out if it works for you, you’ll need to follow the proper protocol to assess your candidacy for the procedure and ensure a successful long-term outcome. 

Proper protocol

Rest, medication, physical therapy, and chiropractic care are often sufficient to ease chronic lower back pain, depending on the severity and chronicity of your pain.

If and when other measures become less effective or ineffective, lumbar RF nerve ablation may offer significant relief, picking up where other treatments leave off or fall short. 

The nerve block “test procedures”

The next step in your RFA journey is the nerve block test procedures. . To appropriately assess if you are a good candidate for the RFA. Dr. Shah performs an initial diagnostic and subsequent confirmatory “test” procedure to measure how successful the RFA will be and to ensure you will have a positive long-term outcome. Dr. Shah will use a local anesthetic with a touch of anti-inflammatory medication to numb the joint under live x-ray image guidance.  You will then follow up 1 week later when our SamWell Pain team will evaluate your response.  If you demonstrate a significant pain relief response during that one “test” duration, we will proceed to “confirm” that response with a 2nd test procedure to appropriately ensure an excellent long-term outcome with your RFA.  Your RFA procedure results have a direct correlation with your results from the diagnostic and confirmatory test procedures.   

This diagnostic test is a critical part of the process.

Is lumbar radiofrequency nerve ablation effective? 

You’ve tried multiple treatments for your chronic lower back pain, so we understand if you’re skeptical about trying yet another. All you really want to know is: Does it work? 

Yes, lumbar radiofrequency nerve ablation works and is an extremely safe and evidence-based procedure that can provide long-term and sustained relief of pain. 

How well it works depends on several variables, including your age, overall health, lifestyle, genetics, occupation, and the root cause of your pain. Most studies demonstrate that RFA typically provides significant pain relief from 6 months up to 2 years.  The nonsurgical and minimally invasive procedure can also be repeated on an as needed basis as soon as 6 months after the initial ablation if needed. 

You may feel some mild discomfort at the injection site after the procedure, so rest and ice are recommended for the first 24 hours. Some patients experience immediate relief from the procedure, but for most, the RFA pain relief takes effect in 7-14 days.  Once it does, you can look forward to months to years of pain-free living — for some, the relief lasts up to over two years. 

Although the procedure may need to be repeated depending on the above mentioned factors, the reprieve allows you to participate in physical therapy, reduce medication use, and delay or eliminate the need for surgical intervention. Dr. Shah can repeat the treatment if necessary.

For more information about lumbar radiofrequency nerve ablation and other nonsurgical treatment options for chronic pain, contact us today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Shah.

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