Medical Monday: Radiofrequency ablation: What is it?

Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-11 14:54:39-04

Dr. Wilkins is a pain and rehab medicine physician with BayCare Clinic. He joined us on Wisconsin Tonight to talk about radiofrequency ablation.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a nonsurgical, minimally invasive procedure that uses heat to reduce or stop the transmission of pain. Radiofrequency waves ablate, or burn the nerve responsible for the pain.

During the procedure, the doctor inserts a hollow needle into the painful area. Radiofrequency current then passes through the needle creating a controlled burn. The part of the nerve responsible for transmitting pain is destroyed, effectively interrupting the pain signal.

This is typically offered to patients with neck or back pain from arthritis, injury, or other joint problems. If you suffer from continual pain or have experienced successful pain relief after a diagnostic nerve or pain receptor block injection, you are considered a candidate. The treatment is not recommended for those who have an infection or are on blood thinners or have poorly controlled diabetes, heart disease or are pregnant.

Spinal pain conditions, post-traumatic pain (whiplash), and pain after spine surgery, are the most common conditions treated. Other conditions such as arthritis pain, lower back pain, and cervical facet joint pain can be treated.

Pain relief can last anywhere from nine months to almost two years. The nerve can possibly regrow through the burned lesion that was created by radiofrequency ablation. If the nerve is going to regrow, it’s typically six to 12 months after the initial procedure.

The procedure is safe. The needles go through skin and soft tissues and may cause mild soreness or bruising.

Patients can walk around immediately following the procedure, go home shortly after and return to work or active life within 24 to 72 hours.

For more information, visit or call BayCare Clinic Pain & Rehab Medicine at 920-288-8377.