Radiofrequency Ablation

Frequently Asked Questions on Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency Ablation in San Antonio for Back and Neck Pain


Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a treatment method that is used by physicians to treat chronic pain caused by arthritis in the spinal joints of the neck or back. The patient will undergo certain tests so that the physician may determine whether RFA will be effective or not. The treatment is also called radiofrequency neurotomy, radiofrequency lesioning or radiofrequency rhizotomy.

Certain conditions under which RFA is utilized are joint arthritis in the neck, back or SI joint. In addition, there are additional conditions that may benefit with a radiofrequency procedure such as:

Neck pain1

How well does Radiofrequency Ablation work?


Ablation is the purposeful destruction of a group of nerve endings that are the source of chronic pain for a patient. Radiofrequency ablation uses radio waves to produce an electrical current to destroy the problematic nerves that are transmitting pain signals to the brain. These are not nerve roots, rather, nerve endings that only supply sensation.


How is Radiofrequency Ablation performed?


Firstly, a local anesthesia is applied to the injection area. A needle will then be carefully inserted into the area to be treated. This is a special needle referred to as an RFA probe, and is used for the delivery of the electrical current. Once placed, the nerve will be stimulated with electrical current to start the ablation process.

Prior to starting the thermal energy portion, a test current is applied to make sure the probes have not been placed too close to an actual nerve root. If the patient’s arm or leg “jerks”, the probe is repositioned. Once the test shows no reaction, the thermal energy is applied.

The current will start to deaden the nerve endings, and the patient should not feel anything. Depending on the area to be treated, the duration and temperature of current applied will vary. Also, some areas receive pulsed current, whereas others receive continous energy.

Facts of Radiofrequency Ablation


The electric current used is in the same wavelength as that used in radio signals, but they are focused only on the problematic nerve ending in order to obtain an extended duration of relief. Patients will find that it is necessary to have a diagnostic injection performed before starting with an RFA, as an RFA is only performed if the diagnostic injection was successful to a certain degree.

The diagnostic injection is also important to receive insurance approval for a subsequent radiofrequency procedure. The reports provided by this diagnostic tool (i.e. medial branch block) should indicate that after the injection, the pain has been lessened by at least 50%, and some require 80%. If this occurs, it means that the injection initially worked.


When the effect starts fading, the San Antonio pain management doctor will decide upon doing an RFA procedure for that patient. Radiofrequency ablation is one of the most advanced methods used today in pain management.


How well does an RFA procedure work?


The outcomes of an RFA for back and neck arthritis have been nothing short of remarkable. Studies have shown the success rates to be over 80% for pain relief, which lasts for 15 months on average. If the pain relief wears off (meaning the nerve endings grew back), a subsequent procedure typically provides the same amount of relief.

There are new studies looking at radiofrequency procedures for additional indications such as SI joint pain, occipital neuralgia, abdominal pain and pelvic pain. While the studies have been small, they have been showing excellent pain relief.

What are the risks of a Radiofrequency Ablation?


There is minimal risk with this procedure, but the complications that may arise are significant. There is a small risk of infection, bleeding, or swelling at the injection site used for the needle.

There is the possibility of the RFA probe being placed incorrectly, resulting in the unintentional damaging or destruction of the nerve itself. The largest risk with this procedure is that it may simply not work for a patient.

Is the Radiofrequency Ablation procedure a safe one?


Though RFA is a safe method of treatment, there are some patients who will not be eligible and who should avoid this treatment to prevent complications. These include those patients who have a current infection, patients who have a history of taking blood thinners, patients with a cardiac disease, or diabetes.

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about Radiofrequency Ablation, contact Consultants in Pain Medicine today. The practice has a Double Board Certified pain management doctor accepting over 50 insurance plans at multiple locations.

Call (210) 202-4030 for more information and scheduling!