Radiofrequency ablation helps relieve back pain by creating a heat lesion on the nerves causing the pain and interrupting the transmission of pain signals to the brain, according to Spine-health. Needles are inserted through the skin above the spine to deliver radio waves that heat nerves, notes Mayo Clinic.
Biological tissues readily absorb some frequencies of radio energy. The absorbed energy rapidly heats tissues, similar to the way a microwave oven heats food, explains the Health Physics Society. Because bodily tissues have a limited ability to shed or dissipate the generated heat, tissue damage can occur with high levels of radio frequency exposure. Radiofrequency ablation leverages this thermal effect to purposely damage nerves that are sending pain signals.
In a radiofrequency ablation procedure, the physician precisely guides the needle to the specific target area using fluoroscope imaging scans. The doctor injects small amounts of numbing medication in advance of the ablation procedure to help confirm the patient is a viable ablation candidate and to identify the precise locations where ablation is needed to reduce the pain. Accurate identification of the nerves causing the pain is key to the effectiveness of the procedure. Pain relief typically lasts six to nine months after treatment, and radiofrequency ablation is more effective for some patients than others, notes Mayo Clinic.