Radiofrequency ablation, or radioblation, is a back pain treatment that is used to disrupt the transmission of signals from the nerves to the brain. In our bodies, we may experience pain either due to chemical or physical changes around tissues that the nerves convert to pain signals, due to damage to the nerves themselves, or due to neurologic pathology to the nerves that causes them to repeatedly fire pain signals to the brain.
Regardless of the source of the pain signal, the ultimate destination for it is to travel up the spinal cord and into the centre of the brain responsible for interpreting pain signals. Our ability to experience pain is healthy mechanism for realising that there is something wrong with our body, which causes us to avoid doing whatever we were doing to cause the injury in the first place.
When pain becomes unhelpful to us is when we feel pain due to injuries that aren't going to heal themselves. Chronic pain may make it harder to move, it may diminish our spirits, and affect our ability to lead a normal life.
One way to experience pain relief without the need to put toxic medications in our bodies is to disrupt the signals in certain nerve branches from reaching the brain.
With radio frequency ablation, a specialised piece of equipment is used to produce an electrical current by a radio wave to heat up a specific area of a nerve, in order to diminish or block its ability to transmit pain signals.
This treatment is typically done for people with chronic back pain conditions that have not responded to conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy.
These treatments have long lasting analgesic effects when successful. Pain relief from these treatments may last for 6 months and even years, in some cases. The reason that this treatment doesn't provide permanent pain relief is because the heat delivered to cook the nerve doesn't destroy the nerve completely, and new nerve fibres may eventually regenerate. Still, this treatment has long lasting success, in many cases. More than 70% of patients who have this procedure experience significant back pain relief.
Side effects/complications associated with this procedure are rare, and they are usually temporary when they occur. Side effects include some bruising and swelling around the affected structures, and typically go away after a few days. Not all people will be good candidates for this procedure. Doctors will not recommend patients who have a history with bleeding problems or infections to undergo this procedure.