Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure that uses heat from high-energy electromagnetic waves to destroy nerves that carry pain impulses. This procedure may be a treatment option for people who have already tried therapeutic injections and found that they only provided temporary relief from neck pain. Radiofrequency ablation targets the same symptoms but has the potential to ease pain for a longer period of time.
To perform this procedure, doctors at NYU Langone apply a local anesthetic to the painful area of the neck, then insert a needle to guide a small probe into the affected nerves. Doctors may use a special kind of X-ray, which provides live video images of your spine, to ensure that the probe is placed correctly.
In some cases, doctors place a number of electrodes—conductors through which an electric current flows—into the area. This enables doctors to treat a larger area. Once the probe and electrodes are in place, a small amount of heat—via electromagnetic waves—passes through the probe and into the nerves. The heat produces a lesion on the painful area of the nerve, destroying the tissue and eliminating pain.
For nerve pain caused by spinal stenosis, radiofrequency ablation can be effective for up to 12 months. Side effects may include temporary soreness at the injection site.
This procedure typically takes less than an hour to perform, and most people can return home the same day.
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