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Radio Frequency Ablation: A Promising Pain Relief Procedure

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Radiofrequency ablation is a promising procedure for arthritis patients. Read this article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nithin V. Krishnan

Published At April 20, 2022
Reviewed AtMay 24, 2024

What Is Radiofrequency Ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation is the method that uses electric current to heat the minor area of the nervous tissue. It stops the passing of nerve signals so that the pain can be prevented. This procedure highly benefits patients with neck pain and back pain. The fibroids in the uterus can also be removed by radiofrequency ablation. This method is seen as the best alternative when other procedures like radiation therapy, palliative surgery, chemotherapy, analgesic medications, and bisphosphonates are unhelpful. The other name for radiofrequency ablation is radiofrequency neurotomy. Though there are side effects related to radiofrequency ablation, it is effective in its minimally invasive way.

How Is Radiofrequency Ablation Done?

The radiofrequency ablation procedure requires specific preparations before the start of the process. Initially, the patient is asked for a detailed medical and drug history. If the patient is under any anticoagulation medications, then the patient will be asked to stop those medications before the surgery. The patient should refrain from the usage of tobacco and other related products.

The patient will be asked to wear a hospital gown and is made to lie flat on the stomach. A comfortable X-ray table is used for this purpose. An IV-intravenous line is administered to the patient for the delivery of medications. The doctor will provide anesthesia to cause numbness in the involved site. After this, the insertion of the radiofrequency needles is planned. An instrument called a fluoroscope is used by the doctor to target the required nervous tissue. A small range of radiofrequency current is passed through the nerve tissues. During this procedure, some patients experience a tingling sensation that might help detect the appropriate operation site.

After the completion of the procedure, the patient will be shifted to another room for adequate rest. In most cases, the patient can be discharged on the same day of the process. There is a chance of soreness on the site of injection. This might prolong for one or two days. The patient is limited from driving, so alternate arrangements are to be made.

After discharge from the hospital, the person has to place ice packs on the site of injection. The soreness area can be treated well with an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes. During the first day of discharge, the person has to apply an ice pack three to four times a day and then gradually reduce it the next day.

Can Radiofrequency Ablation Help in Treating Tumors?

Radiofrequency ablation is very helpful in the treatment of tumors. This might involve tumors in the bone, kidney, lungs, and liver. After the doctor makes the diagnosis, a special probe for radiofrequency ablation is inserted inside the tumor. When this probe is placed on the required area of the tissue, the radiofrequency waves might help destroy the tumor. This procedure is very technique-sensitive and might require help from highly qualified professionals. Radiofrequency ablation is useful for both primary tumors and secondary tumors. The patient may be asked to stay in the hospital for a while when they are getting treated for tumors.

Initially, radiofrequency ablation was formulated to treat osteoid osteoma. In some cases, radiofrequency ablation is performed along with chemotherapy. In liver cancer patients, the method of radiofrequency ablation is performed along with chemotherapeutic agents so that the drugs can be administered along with the radiofrequency waves.

Can Radiofrequency Ablation Help in Treating Varicose Veins?

The most commonly used method to treat varicose veins is stripping and acupuncture. The branches of varicose veins are cured with the help of procedures like foam sclerotherapy, ambulatory phlebectomy, and sclerotherapy. Stripping has a high success rate, but if it is not suitable, then radiofrequency ablation is the best option. The advantage of radiofrequency ablation over stripping is that the intensity of the invasive mechanism is relatively low. The involved vein that is causing pain is treated with the help of radiofrequency procedures that take help from ultrasound guidance and a radiofrequency catheter. A radiofrequency catheter is a precise tool that is inserted into the abnormal vein.

Can Radiofrequency Ablation Treat Sleep Disorders?

The usage of radiofrequency ablation in procedures for sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea is noted. According to the reports from the American Academy of Otolaryngology, radiofrequency ablation can be used in selected patients. Radiofrequency ablation does not require very high temperatures.

What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Radiofrequency Ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure typically considered safe and low-risk. However, like any injection procedure, there is always a possibility of experiencing side effects or other complications. Immediately following radiofrequency ablation, the person may experience the following side effects:

  • Burning or hypersensitivity at the injection site.

  • Numbness and tingling at the injection site.

At times, these symptoms may resemble a sunburn in the treated area. Although these symptoms may persist for the first few days or weeks, they can be managed by resting, applying an ice pack intermittently to the sore area, and using topical or oral medications.

What Is Radiofrequency Ablation Recovery?

Following the RFA procedure, patients are moved to a recovery room for 15 minutes to an hour (if sedation was administered), during which time their vital signs are continuously monitored. Depending on the treated area, patients may experience a superficial burning pain accompanied by hypersensitivity, similar to a sunburn sensation. Occasionally, there may also be slight numbness of the skin in the same area. Here are a few precautions and tips for the first day or two following RFA:

  • The person can use an ice pack intermittently to alleviate pain and reduce swelling at the injection site. Ice packs should be applied for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, with a break of at least two hours between applications to prevent skin injury. It is generally not recommended to use heat packs on the injection site after RFA.

  • It is recommended to take warm showers instead of baths for one to two days following the RFA procedure.

Pain relief following RFA typically occurs one to three weeks after the procedure. It is recommended to rest for several days before resuming normal activities. Patients can gradually return to their regular activities, but they should gauge their activity levels based on their pain levels during the initial days. Since many patients have experienced decreased physical conditioning over several months or years due to pain, physicians may prescribe a supervised physical therapy program to help them safely increase their strength and activity tolerance.


Radiofrequency ablation might not be a suitable procedure for all patients. It would be best if the patient had a thorough examination before going for it. The patient can also get help from online doctors and talk to the expert panel. Reaching out to healthcare specialists may be beneficial.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I Have Radiofrequency Ablation Frequently?

Radiofrequency ablation delivers heat to specific areas of nerve tissue to hinder the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It is not a surgical procedure, and it aids in relieving chronic pain. For a few individuals, the pain is relieved within ten days, and in others, it may take three to four weeks. The patient may feel the relief for several months to years. After the radiofrequency ablation, the nerve tends to regrow and cause pain. The surgeon might repeat the radiofrequency ablation to control the pain. Sometimes, the procedure is done three to four weeks later to treat another nerve tissue.


What Can I Do if Radiofrequency Ablation Does Not Work?

The radiofrequency ablation procedure effectively provides relief from chronic and severe pain. It significantly relieves the patient from spinal pain. The process involves the use of electric current to small areas of nerve tissue to destroy it. It will block the pain signals from reaching the brain. Radiofrequency ablation is usually considered a last option if surgery and other conservative treatment do not work in controlling the pain. Therefore, the procedure can be repeated if there is minimal or no pain relief. Other alternatives that are considered are as follows:
- Laser therapy.
- Cryoablation - The pain-causing nerve is frozen to prevent the transmission of the signal to the brain.


What Are the After-Effects of Radiofrequency Ablation?

Once the radiofrequency ablation procedure gets over, the patient may not achieve complete pain relief. It takes three or four weeks to get the result. The pain relief may last for six months to a year. The patient might feel the following side effects of radiofrequency ablation:
- Pain.
- Swelling in the injection site.
- Numbness.
- Bruising and infection may occur rarely.


How Does Radiofrequency Ablation Work?

Radiofrequency ablation helps relieve the patients who suffer from severe and long-term pain. It works by destroying a small area of nerve tissue, thus preventing the transmission of nerve signals to the brain and controlling the pain. It involves the following steps:
- First, the patient is asked to lie on their stomach on an X-ray table.
- The surgeon injects local anesthesia to the target site and uses a fluoroscope device to visualize the procedural area (nervous tissue).
- A required amount of electric current is passed to the specific nerve tissue and is destroyed.
- The whole procedure may take 15 minutes to two hours.
- The patient may develop mild soreness on the injection site. Complete pain relief is felt after three weeks.


What Are the Indications for Radiofrequency Ablation?

The radiofrequency ablation is effective in treating the following conditions:
- Chronic joint pain.
- Pain due to injury.
- Pain due to previous spinal surgery.
- Peripheral nerve pain.
- Cancer pain.
- Spinal arthritis (an inflammation of joints in the spine).


Is Radiofrequency Ablation a Surgical Procedure?

No, radiofrequency ablation is not a surgical procedure. It is considered a minimally invasive technique, and minor damage to the skin may occur. The patient may return home immediately after the procedure. The doctor injects local anesthesia during the process. Then, a thin needle is passed over the skin to reach the target nerve tissue, and an electric current is delivered to destroy the small area of nerve tissue. The patient might feel a tingling sensation during the procedure. Although the process is not painful, mild pain, numbness, and discomfort may occur.


Do I Have to Stay Awake During Radiofrequency Ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure, and side effects are minor. The following occurs during the procedure:
- The doctor uses local anesthesia to numb the surgical area.
- You may stay awake during the process.
- The doctor might provide you visual screen to view the procedure.
- You may assist the doctor by responding to questions.
- A mild tingling sensation or discomfort is felt during the process.


Is Radiofrequency Ablation Effective for Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins refer to enlarged veins under the skin surface of legs and feet. Several treatments are available to manage varicose veins. Radiofrequency ablation is considered safe, minimally invasive, and effective in treating varicose veins. The surgeon inserts a thin catheter into the affected vein to deliver the electric current in this procedure. The patient may be advised to wear stockings for one week.


Is Heart Ablation Surgery Dangerous?

Radiofrequency ablation is also effective in treating abnormal heart rhythms. If the heart rhythms are not corrected, even after the use of medications and surgical procedures, the doctor might suggest radiofrequency ablation. It is a safe method, and complications rarely occur; it includes:
- Bleeding.
- Infection.
- Slow heart rate.
- Worsening of abnormal heart rhythms.
- Heart valve damage.
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Dr. Lochana .k
Dr. Lochana .k



radiofrequency ablation
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