How Effective Is Nerve Ablation for Pain Associated With Sciatica?

Research results show that 60 percent of patients with referred pain, often called sciatica, receive an 80 percent pain reduction after one year using radiofrequency nerve ablation, says HealthCentral. Referred pain and neurogenic pain, rather than sciatica, are the terms preferred by the medical community to describe pain that radiates from the lower back into the legs.

Radiofrequency ablation, or RFA, uses a heat probe to sever the nerve carrying the pain signals to the brain, explains HealthCentral. The probe is inserted into the spine using X-rays to guide it. This treatment is a temporary solution because the nerve can repair itself over time, but RFA can be repeated without risk if necessary. The procedure doesn’t fix the source of the pain but simply relieves the pain by interrupting the nerve signals.

Inflammation of the facet joints between each vertebrae causes referred pain, while a damaged or irritated nerve is the cause of neurogenic pain, notes HealthCentral. Radiofrequency ablation is effective for treating referred pain, which is characterized by a dull ache rather than a sharp, severe pain. Likely candidates for RFA treatment are screened by first undergoing a nerve block, which uses a numbing chemical to deaden the nerve. This procedure is repeated twice in order to ensure the results, and different chemicals may be used.