Understanding Radiofrequency Denervation

Radiofrequency denervation is a treatment choice for some kinds of lower back and neck pain. It uses an electrical current created by radio waves. The radio waves make heat that destroys nerves along the spine that are causing pain. It’s also known as radiofrequency lesioning, ablation, neurotomy, or rhizomotomy.

How to say it

RAY-dee-oh-FREE-kwen-see dee-ner-VAY-shuhn

Why radiofrequency denervation is done

This treatment may be an option to reduce or stop lower back or neck pain that has lasted for a month or more. It can help treat pain caused by arthritis, normal wear and tear, disk disease, injury, and other problems. It’s used when other treatment hasn’t worked, such as medicine and physical therapy. It may be done after an injection of medicine into the nerve area to confirm that the nerve will respond to treatment.

How radiofrequency denervation is done

The procedure is done in a hospital or medical clinic. During the treatment:

  • You lie on your stomach. The area in your back or neck to be treated may be numbed. You may be given some medicine to help you relax.

  • The healthcare provider inserts a thin tube through the skin over the spine in your lower back or neck. He or she uses moving X-ray machine called a fluoroscope to help make sure the thin tube is in the right place. You may feel some discomfort.

  • When the tube is in place, the provider puts a wire through the tube. The wire is connected to a machine that sends radio waves through the wire. The radio waves heat the nerve and destroy it.

  • More than one nerve may need to be treated. You can go home 1 to 2 hours after the procedure. 

You may feel more pain right after the treatment. The pain should then go away over 1 to 3 weeks. The pain relief may last for less than a month, or for 6 months or more. This depends on what is causing your pain, and how well this treatment can work for it. It may help you be able to take less medicine for pain. The nerve will likely grow back. But it may not cause pain, or as much pain as before.

Risks of radiofrequency denervation

  • More pain after the procedure for a period of time

  • Mild burning feeling that may last up to 3 weeks

  • Numbness in the area that may last up to 4 months