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The Pros and Cons Of Radiofrequency Treatment For Chronic Back Pain

Radio-frequency neurotomy, also known as ablation or radiation-frequency lesion, is a procedure that intentionally injures nerves to prevent the transmission and processing of pain signals to the brain. It is a minimally invasive surgical procedure reserved for those with chronic pain who have not found relief from more conservative treatment methods.

Radiofrequency treatments can be used on patients with pain from a degenerative disc, feature joint or sacroiliac (SI) component. Guided by a fluoroscope, an electrode is inserted into the body and placed on the targeted nerve. When properly positioned, the electrode is heated to create lesions on the nerve. A later, advanced form of the procedure includes a cooling step; this increases the impact distance of the electrode and may be useful in certain parts of the body.

This treatment is not a permanent solution; over time, nerves heal and pain returns. It is important to remember that radiofrequency is a treatment that addresses the symptoms of pain, not the initial cause. Review the following pros and cons before deciding whether to get this procedure.


For people who are unable to perform day-to-day activities or work due to pain, a procedure like radio-frequency neurotomy can be very positive. If effective, the procedure may allow people to return to work and perform basic daily activities such as walking without excessive pain.

Results from radio-frequency treatment can last up to a year or two, which may be more attractive than steroid injections, another common treatment for back joint pain and SI.

Neurotomy is a less invasive procedure than other surgical methods to eliminate joint and disc pain, especially fusion surgery. Fusion creates a rigid segment between vertebrae or the pelvic bone and sacrum to prevent painful movement from instability. The procedure comes with a high price tag and a lot of risks, including accelerated degeneration in the feature joints and spinal discs near the fused joint. Radio-frequency lesions may provide sufficient pain relief to avoid more invasive surgery.

Research suggests that this procedure is to some extent helpful for about 70% of those who receive it and may reduce dependence on expensive and dangerous pain medications. See .html for a collection of research supporting the use of radio-frequency cooling for discogenic and SI joint pain.


Radio-frequency lesioning makes pain worse before it is ameliorated. The initial week after the procedure can be difficult due to local soreness and swelling. Some patients who received the treatment report that it may take a month or two to feel any positive effects.

Some patients who receive the treatment never get relief. Some may experience more pain even if the procedure was performed incorrectly and if the targeted nerve was incompletely damaged; this would increase the pain signal output. See for reviews of the procedure from several people who received it.

It must be remembered that this treatment is not a cure; it only hides the pain. Whether your pain is caused by a degradable disc, feature joint or SI joint, it is important to continue your efforts to resolve the underlying issue. Research alternative medicine to find treatment options you may not be aware of. Take advantage of your pain-free or reduced-time post-radiation frequency treatment to follow fitness therapy, strengthening your core muscles that support joints and spinal discs.

Radio-frequency neurotomy may be an appropriate treatment for you if pain is affecting your quality of life. However, any chronic pain treatment plan should focus on addressing the cause of the pain and not just hiding the symptom.

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