Chronic pain management treatments are becoming more sophisticated. As such, an increasing number of non-surgical back pain treatments are now available. These non-invasive procedures offer people living with chronic back pain an effective way to manage their condition. Surgery can involve complications that outweigh the benefits of undergoing a procedure in the first place. Fortunately, there are other non-invasive back pain treatments available that still offer long-term solutions with minimal side effects. Once such option involves radiofrequency injections. Also called radiofrequency ablation and radiofrequency neurotomy, this treatment is primarily used to treat arthritis.


Radiofrequency ablation is an effective treatment option for low back and neck pain. It is also effective in the treatment of arthritis joint pain. While not a cure for chronic pain, it is proven to reduce pain. Traditional ablation involves surgically removing body tissue through an invasive medical procedure. Radiofrequency ablation is non-surgical as it only involves the insertion of a needle into the target area. Once the doctor confirms the placement of the needle, a microelectrode is fed into the needle. When switched on, the microelectrode heats up the affected nerve tissue. This stimulation causes an interruption in the nerve’s ability to transmit the pain signal to the brain.


Pain relief from radiofrequency ablation can last anywhere from 6 to 12 months. In some cases, pain relief can last for years. Most people experience pain relief from radiofrequency ablation. Over 70% of people experience some results from a radiofrequency ablation treatment. For this reason, radiofrequency ablation is an effective treatment option for dealing with chronic back pain.


There are very few complications that are associated with radiofrequency ablation. It considered a low-risk procedure for most people. There is the possibility of infection at the site of insertion. Swelling and slight bruising are also possible although these side effects should subside after a few days. Radiofrequency ablation is not a good option for people who have infections and/or who have bleeding problems.


A radiofrequency ablation session is an outpatient treatment. The first step involves an imaging scan so the doctor can see the nerve that needs attention. Once this is complete, the doctor will administer a mild sedative and local anesthetic. The local anesthetic is to prevent pain at the needle insertion site. The patient needs to be conscious during the treatment. This is to provide feedback to the doctor to help identify the correct nerve. There may be some discomfort experienced during the procedure. However, there will not be pain. A small current will be sent through the electrode to heat the nerve tissue and numb the problem nerve area.


After the treatment is over, a patient can return home. There is no need for continuous medical observation as recovery is relatively quick. There may be soreness at the needle insertion site so ice can be used in 20-minute increments to help soothe the affected area. There are to be no baths for the first 24 to 48 hours although showers are okay.


Once complete, a patient can return to eating a regular diet. Operating machinery should not occur for at least 24 hours following treatment. Strenuous activity should also be avoided for the first 24 hours.


Some people experience leg tingling and numbness after a radiofrequency ablation treatment. This is usually the result of the local anesthetic and should wear off within a couple of hours. Soreness in the back is another possible side effect. This is normal and should go away after a few days. Hot and cold packs can help to soothe the pain along with regular pain medications.


Radiofrequency ablation works differently for different people. How effective a treatment is will depend on how closely a doctor is able to access the right nerve. Repeat procedures produce the same results so treatments will need to be ongoing. However, regular radiofrequency ablation is an effective option for treating chronic back pain. While the results of a treatment are not permanent, radiofrequency ablation can offer months of pain relief for chronic back pain.


Mayo Clinic. “Radiofrequency Neurotomy Definition.” November 26, 2014. Accessed February 7, 2017.

WebMD and David Zelman, MD. “Radiofrequency Ablation for Arthritis Pain.” October 12, 2015. Accessed February 7, 2017.