When Neck Pain Doesn’t Respond to First-Line Treatment, Radiofrequency Rhizotomy May Be the Answer

Neck pain is one of the most common ailments. While prescription and over-the-counter medications, injections, and other pain treatments work well for some, these first-line remedies don’t work for all.

Failure to find relief over time means your neck pain has achieved chronic status. When that happens, it’s time to take another step toward pain relief by exploring radiofrequency rhizotomy.

What is rhizotomy?

Rhizotomy, also called radiofrequency ablation or RFA, is a minimally invasive, outpatient pain relieving procedure that ablates the nerves that are delivering pain signals to the brain and a particular body region such as the neck or low back. The procedure entails radiofrequency waves delivered to specific nerves in order to interrupt those pain signals.

At SamWell Institute for Pain Management, Dr. Jay M. Shah and his team perform rhizotomy using a combination of local anesthesia and light sedation. The procedure takes about 30 minutes , depending on how many areas or nerves are involved.

Am I a candidate for rhizotomy?

Your first step is to try diagnostic steroid pain injections. Radiofrequency rhizotomy is generally performed if you have results within what is referred to as the 80% rule: If steroid injections reduce pain by 80% or more, a rhizotomy could bring lasting relief.

Dr. Shah also completes a pain evaluation to further determine if rhizotomy is for you. Some of the criteria are:

What can I expect?

After numbing the treatment area in your neck or low back, a small needle and a cannula are inserted to locate the nerve or nerves via live X-ray guidance. A small electrical current is passed into the space to confirm the positioning is correct. Then the nerve is heated which deactivates the nerve root and disrupting its ability to transmit pain signals.  

Rhizotomy recovery

While you walk out of this procedure with just a small bandage on your neck, you do require home care to manage typical post-procedure issues. You may experience some post-procedure  soreness at the injection site for a few days to a few weeks.

Simple after-care instructions advise you to:

If the radiofrequency rhizotomy procedure is successful, you’ll know within three to four weeks, as pain starts to diminish. Your pain should gradually disappear over eight weeks or so. The procedure may provide lasting relief for as long as two years. Nerve roots can grow back, so you may need to repeat the procedure over time.

To get more information on rhizotomy and other procedures to address your chronic neck pain, please contact the SamWell Institute for Pain Management. You can call us or make an appointment on this website for either our Colonia or West Orange, New Jersey, locations.

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