Radiofrequency Ablations for Chronic Neck + Back Pain

What is Radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a quick outpatient procedure used to treat chronic neck and back pain. The procedure involves the use of thermal probes to target nerves carrying pain signals from the spine. This effectively blocks the pain signals from being transmitted, providing patients with pain relief for around 6 months to a year.

Who is a candidate for Radiofrequency ablation?

RFA is indicated as a treatment for patients with chronic low back pain related to spinal arthritis and other degenerative conditions of the spine. Those who are suffering from discogenic spinal pain or chronic back pain due to degeneration of cartilage in the facet or sacroiliac joints may be candidates for treatment if they have not found relief from more conservative treatments. Before a patient undergoes RFA, a series of diagnostic nerve blocks is first administered to confirm the target location for the injection.

Is this procedure backed by scientific research?

There is a well-established body of evidence showing the benefits of radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of low back pain and neck pain. Numerous well designed and rigorous clinical studies have been performed which have demonstrated statistically significant and prolonged pain relief for patients with low back pain related to arthritis of the spine.  Some of these studies include the following:

  1. In 2013, a randomized, placebo-controlled study on 59 patients with a history of chronic lower back pain found that patients treated with radiofrequency ablation had significantly greater improvements in pain and function than the patients who were given the placebo treatment at the 6-month follow up.1
  2. A 2010 study conducted on 104 patients with chronic neck pain found that repeated cervical radiofrequency ablation significantly improved quality of life, pain measures, and range of motion in treated patients for 10 months post-procedure.2