Treatment Spotlight: Nerve Ablations for Back Pain

Apr 23, 2024 | Pain Management

Chronic back pain can be a debilitating condition that severely disrupts a person’s daily life. Even simple acts like making breakfast or getting the mail can be difficult if not impossible when back pain just won’t ease up. 

If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, you’ve probably already explored different treatment options such as medication and physical therapy. But if these approaches haven’t provided the kind of lasting relief you’re looking for, it may be time to try a new approach: nerve ablations. 

Let’s take a closer look at this minimally invasive procedure and see if it might be worth talking about with your doctor.

What Is a Nerve Ablation for Back Pain?

You may already know that our nervous system is responsible for telling us when there’s a problem in our body. Nerves work as pain sensors that send alerts to the brain to bring the issue to our immediate attention. 

A nerve ablation for back pain (more commonly referred to as “radiofrequency ablations” or RFA) uses radio waves to generate heat and disrupt the function of nerve tissue. With chronic back pain, RFAs target the nerves responsible for transmitting pain signals from inflamed facet joints. 

Here’s how it works. A pain management specialist (usually a registered nurse or other trained medical practitioner) inserts a thin needle — guided by X-ray imaging —  near the nerve. Radio waves zap the tip of the needle, heating the nearby nerve tissue, which disrupts the nerve’s ability to send pain signals. 

While the effects can vary widely from patient to patient, radiofrequency ablations offer pain relief that can last for months.

Who Is a Candidate for Nerve Ablation?

Pain management specialists consider nerve ablation for chronic back pain (lasting longer than three months) that hasn’t responded adequately to conservative treatments like medication, physical therapy, or other methods. 

It’s most often used to treat pain due to conditions such as:

  • Facet joint arthritis (small joints behind the vertebrae that can become inflamed)
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (where the lower spine connects to the pelvis and becomes too loose or stiff)
  • Spinal stenosis (the narrowing of the spinal canal can compress nerves and cause pain, numbness, and weakness)

Benefits of Nerve Ablation for Back Pain

Surgery is usually a last resort when it comes to treating pain due to its risks, costs, and recovery time. Thankfully, minimally invasive procedures such as nerve ablation offer several advantages over other treatments, including surgery, in reducing a patient’s back pain.

Minimally Invasive

The procedure is performed with a needle, resulting in minimal tissue disruption and faster recovery.

Outpatient Procedure

Most RFA procedures are done on an outpatient basis, allowing you to return home the same day.

Targeted Pain Relief

The procedure targets specific nerves, minimizing the risk of affecting surrounding tissues.

Long-Lasting Results

Although it’s not considered a permanent solution, RFA can provide pain relief for months or even years in some cases.

While nerve ablation is a safe and effective procedure, there are some potential risks to be aware of, including:

  • Infection at the insertion site
  • Nerve damage (although rare)
  • Temporary weakness or numbness in the treated area

What to Expect During and After Nerve Ablation

A nerve ablation for back pain usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes. You’ll be awake during the procedure but will receive a local anesthetic to numb the area. You might feel some discomfort or tingling during the ablation itself.

Following the procedure, you may experience some soreness at the insertion point, which typically goes away after a few days.  Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on recovery and pain management.

Ablations and Other Pain Treatments With HPM

At HPM pain management clinics, our team of highly trained and experienced specialists use the latest advancements in pain management techniques, including nerve ablation for back pain. Our team is dedicated to providing comprehensive, personalized care to help you find the most relief possible.

Contact HPM to find a pain management clinic near you and schedule a consultation. Pain doesn’t have to control your day-to-day life; we’re here to help you get your life back.