Last updated: Nov 19, 2021

What is Radiofrequency Ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA or rhizotomy) is a procedure used to reduce pain. An electrical current is produced by a radio wave and used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area. Relief varies, depending on the causes and the location of the pain. It is possible that pain relief from RFA can last from six and up to twelve months. Some patients experience relief for years. Over 70% of patients who have RFA experience some kind of pain relief.

RFA can be used to help patients with chronic lower-back and neck pain, and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis. The radio frequency waves are often directed at the nerves to the facet joints of the spine. These joints are located on either side of the vertebra. In order to identify the nerves that are to be treated, a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, may be injected to see what nerve is producing the pain signals. If the anesthetic produces temporary relief, that nerve may benefit from RFA. Patients who have had temporary relief after epidural and facet joint injections may experience longer lasting relief with RFA.

Procedure Details

An intravenous (IV) line may be used during the procedure along with a local anesthetic and mild sedative to reduce any discomfort felt during RFA. You may also be awake during the process to aid in properly addressing the pain and location of the pain. Ask your doctor about specifics beforehand.

After the local anesthetic (you will be awake, but will not feel any pain) has been given, the doctor will insert a small needle into the general area where you are experiencing pain. Using X-ray, your doctor will guide the needle to the exact area. A micro-electrode will then be inserted through the needle to begin the stimulation process.

During the procedure, your doctor will ask if you are able to feel a tingling sensation. The object of the stimulation process is to help the doctor determine if the electrode is in the optimal area for treatment.

Once the needle and electrode placement are verified, a small radio-frequency current is sent through the electrode into the surrounding tissue, causing the tissue to heat. You should not feel any discomfort during the heating portion of the procedure.
Radiofrequency Ablation

Possible Candidates

  • 18 years or older
  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Experiencing pain for at least 3-6 months


  • Arthritis (Spondylosis)
  • Pain after spinal surgery
  • Lumbar degenerative disc disease
  • Cervical degenerative disc disease
  • Peripheral Nerve Entrapment
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD)
This page was published on Jul 20, 2017, modified on Nov 19, 2021 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare
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