Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation

Lumbar Medial Brach Radiofrequency procedure being performed in the spine.

Although many cases of back and neck pain will resolve with self-care options like ice and rest, or conservative treatment such as physical therapy and medication, chronic or severe pain may require more extensive intervention in order to get you back on your feet and enjoying life.

If you’re living with neck or back pain that simply won’t go away, a Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation could help you finally find the relief you’re looking for, so that you can take back your life.

At Cahaba Pain and Spine Care, our Board Certified Pain Physicians are experts who specialize in Radiofrequency Ablation, a procedure that blocks pain signals from spinal facet joints. It’s a procedure that could help you achieve lasting relief.

To help you determine if Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation is right for you, we’ve broken down the most common questions patients have about the procedure, including how it works and what to expect both during and after ablation.

What is Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation and How Can it Help Me?

For many patients, the source of their pain is the facet joints in their spine. These bony protrusions allow your spine to move, twist, and bend. Yet, they can become injured or damaged through degeneration, leading to inflammation and an increasing level of pain signals along the medial branches of your spinal nerves.

Bending backward, looking up, or twisting can result in worsening of your symptoms, including the pain you feel.

In Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation, your expert pain physician uses radio waves to destroy the nerve fibers that carry those pain signals along your medial branch nerves to block the pain and help you achieve relief. The high-frequency electrical current that is used ablates or “burns” a small area of nerve tissue for long-lasting pain control.

What Can I Expect During the Procedure?

Before scheduling a Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation, your doctor is likely to recommend a diagnostic procedure, called a Medial Branch Block, to determine whether ablation can provide the relief you’re looking for. A Medial Branch block uses long-acting anesthetic to temporarily halt pain signals from your medial branch nerves and confirm your facet joints as the source of your pain.

Prior to your ablation, you may receive an IV and sedative medication to keep you comfortable. During your procedure, you lie on an x-ray table and your doctor will give you an injection of numbing medication to minimize your discomfort.

You pain management specialist will then insert a very thin, hollow needle under x-ray guidance into the area responsible for your pain and inject contrast dye to confirm the location. Once the proper positioning has been confirmed, additional numbing medication is injected and the radiofrequency current is passed through the needle to burn the nerves responsible for your pain with expert precision in order to halt the pain signal. Most patients report feeling a “pressure” sensation during the procedure.

Depending on the number of facets involved in your pain, multiple nerves may be burned during the same procedure, which typically lasts between 20 and 45 minutes.

What Happens After My Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation?

Once your procedure is completed, you are moved to a recovery area where you will rest and be monitored for about 30 minutes. At discharge, you will need someone to drive you home.

Although you can take a shower, you should not sit in a bath for 48 hours. It’s also important to avoid strenuous activity for the rest of the day. Since the procedure is minimally invasive, your downtime is minimal and you will quickly be able to return to your normal levels of activity.

What Are the Results?

Some patients experience immediate relief following a Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation but in general, you can expect to feel relief from your back or neck pain within 10 days to three weeks. The relief you achieve from your ablation procedure can last from nine months to more than two years, making it a safe, effective way to get back to the activities you love.