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Radiofrequency nerve ablation is a procedure that is used to reduce chronic back pain by destroying some nerve tissue that sends pain signals to the brain. This procedure is ideal for patients with arthritic joints in the cervical or lumbar spine region. This is a conservative treatment modality to avoid surgery and obtain pain relief. The procedure is normally performed in the office and takes anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes. During the procedure the patient lies on an x-ray table and a local anesthetic is used to numb the area. The patient remains awake for this procedure. Using fluoroscopy, a thin needle is directed into the area of pathology and a radiofrequency current is passed through the hollow needle. This essentially destroys part of the nerve that transmits pain signals to the brain. Multiple regions can be performed at one time. Patients may have some discomfort from the procedure but this does gradually improve. Most patients start to notice pain relief within 10 days; others can take up to a few weeks. This procedure has been shown to provide relief for 9 months to 2 years or more.
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The patient should not eat or drink for 8 hours prior to the procedure. Small sips of water with any needed medication are appropriate. You should also have a driver to escort you safely home afterward. Refrain from wearing any lotions, powders, creams, makeup or perfume. Wear comfortable clothes and bring cases for eyeglasses, contacts, hearing aids or dentures.
Some discomfort following the procedure is normal, but most patients find relief within 10 days following the ablation.