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Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Neck Pain and Headaches

Everyone experiences mild headaches and neck pain now and then. Commonly caused by stress, tension, or poor posture, these occasional annoyances usually subside on their own with a little rest, ice, and maybe some OTC pain relievers. 

Next-level pain caused by trauma, spinal joint arthritis, spinal stenosis, occipital neuralgia, or a herniated disc calls for professional care, including physical therapy, medication, injections, and sometimes surgery.

But when your pain outlasts these traditional treatments, it may be time to stop your nerves’ ability to send pain signals — and for that you need a specialist experienced in locating and treating your nerves with precise accuracy. 

Our team of experts at SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Colonia and Livingston, New Jersey performs radiofrequency (RF) ablation or rhizotomy for our patients in chronic pain, freeing them from misery for months — even years — at a time. This advanced technique is especially effective for neck pain and headaches under certain circumstances. 

The science behind RF ablation 

You feel pain when your nerves send a signal to your brain that says “feel pain now.” But sometimes nerves get confused and continue to send pain messages to your brain, even when the stimulus is gone. The result is unrelenting, chronic pain that won’t respond to most medical treatments.

RF ablation goes straight to the source and and uses pulses of electrical energy to stop painful  nerves so they can longer signal pain. 

During the procedure, Dr. Jay Shah or Dr. Jeffrey Deygoo uses digital imaging to guide slender needles into the area of the malfunctioning nerves. Once they place the needle tip in the precise location desired, a tiny electrode in the needles emits a flow of radiofrequency energy that gently heats the offending nerves and renders them inactive. 

RF ablation helps headaches

There are many different types of headaches. Secondary headaches are symptoms of other conditions, such as allergies, hypertension, and substances like caffeine. Primary headaches are conditions in and of themselves, such as migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches. 

Any type of headache that affects you daily or most days of the month is considered a chronic headache, and it requires an experienced pain management team for proper treatment. The first level of treatment for headache pain is medication, which is often highly effective. However, in cases where drugs don’t provide adequate relief, RF ablation may.

However, studies show that patients with headaches related to pericranial neuralgia can experience significant relief with RF ablation — more than 90% improvement for some. This minimally invasive procedure vastly reduces the negative side effects associated with more extreme measures and offers equal or greater pain relief.

RF ablation helps neck pain

Serious neck conditions, such as cervical spinal stenosis, herniated discs, spondylosis, radiculopathy, and whiplash may need more than medicine. Physical therapy can be extremely effective in these cases, but when they’re not, or when your pain is so intense and persistent that it prevents you from participating fully in PT, RF ablation may be the solution.

Our specialists start by administering a local anesthesia so you won’t feel any discomfort, and light sedation to help you relax. However, it’s important that you’re awake and alert so you can participate in the procedure by telling us when you experience pain relief. In fact, we may use an injectable nerve block first to determine whether we’ve targeted the correct nerve before proceeding with the rhizotomy.

Once the electrodes in the needles emit the radiofrequency current, the nerve tissue is destroyed. 

What to expect from RF ablation

After your rhizotomy procedure, you should take it easy for the rest of the day, and you shouldn’t drive. Some people report a slight increase in pain for a few days following their procedure, but that quickly subsides. 

You may notice significant pain relief immediately, or it may take a few weeks to kick in. Once it does, our patients usually have lasting pain relief for six months to two years. If the nerve grows back, you may need to have the procedure repeated in the future.

Although rhizotomy doesn’t cure your condition, it can provide much-needed pain relief that allows you to engage in physical therapy and reduce use of medications. 

To learn more about radiofrequency ablation/rhizotomy and whether it may be the right treatment for you, call us at either of our New Jersey locations, or book an appointment online today. 

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