Radiofrequency Ablation

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is the use of radiofrequency waves to heat tissue in a very small area. We are thickening (or clotting) the specific pain nerves feeding the joints in your spine (facet joints), which are presumably the cause of back pain - based on the results of previous injections to the medial branch nerves (the nerves that feed the facet joints).  

We use X-ray guidance to place a small needle adjacent to the targeted nerve, then radiofrequency waves are generated at the needle tip. The treatment area is quite small (about 5mm in diameter).

HOW DO I PREPARE FOR MY EXAM?

  • Arrive 30 minutes prior to your procedure.
  • Have a light snack an hour before your arrival.
  • If you are on anticoagulation drugs (Plavix, Coumadin, Warfarin, etc.) you may need to have an international normalized ratio (INR) test and temporarily stop your medication prior to the procedure. Please inform our booking coordinators so that they can discuss this in more detail with you.
  • You must have someone accompany you on the day of your test.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING MY EXAM?

  • A technolgist will go over the consent form, explain the procedure, and answer any questions.
  • We will assess your leg strength and provide you with a comfortable clinic gown to change into.
  • Your technologist will escort you to our treatment suite, where you will be greeted by the radiologist and positioned on the table for your exam.
  • The radiologist will use X-ray guidance to correctly position a thin tube and administer a generous amount of local freezing.
  • The radiologist will confirm the correct location by viewing the needle from multiple angles and may test the probe location, if needed.
  • The radiologist will let you know when the nerve ablation has begun, a process which takes two minutes for each site. Band-Aids will be placed over the treatment areas.
  • The technologist will enter with a stretcher and you will be asked to roll on to it.
  • You will be brought into a recovery room, an ice pack will be applied, and we will monitor you for an additional 15-30 minutes post-procedure.  
  • You will then be checked and if there are no concerns, you are free to leave with your driver.

POST-EXAM INSTRUCTIONS

  • Please watch for infection or uncontrollable bleeding. Signs of infection include skin redness, pus, or a significant increase in pain and fever. Should there be cause for concern, please call 403-984-5470 to speak with a nurse or radiologist. If you are unable to reach us, please call Health Link (1-866-408-5465) or go to the nearest emergency room or medical centre.
  • Do not drive and avoid strenuous activity for 24 hours.
  • Avoid baths and pools for at least 48 hours. Brief showers are ok, but keep the injection sites as dry as possible.
  • Change your bandage(s) if they become wet or dirty over the next 48-72 hours.
  • For pain control after the procedure, Tylenol (acetaminophen) or previously-prescribed pain medications (as per their original prescription directions) can be used, as long as you were ok to take these medications prior to the procedure. Intermittent ice packs on the injection site can help minimize swelling during the first couple of days.
  • If you were on anti-coagulation therapy or blood thinners prior to the procedure and they were temporarily stopped, please restart them as discussed.

WHEN WILL I SEE RESULTS?

Results vary from weeks to months.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

This exam is covered under your Alberta Health Care Plan. It is not currently offered at our Saskatchewan clinic.

 

For Your Appointment

Please ensure that you bring your requisition with to your appointment.

Questions?

Duration

60-90 minutes

Location

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How long will it take to notice results from this procedure?

Some soreness or return of pain is expected once the local anesthetic has worn off, and for some this can worsen over 1-2 weeks. Although the nerves can take up to one month to completely lose their function, relief is typically obtained sooner than this.

How long will my injection last?

About 80 percent of patients will receive long-term pain relief lasting approximately 6-18 months. The re-growing of nerves accounts for this return of symptoms, however the returning pain is often less severe than before the procedure.

Can I have this procedure done again if found helpful?

RFA can be repeated if adequate long-term relief was previously obtained.

How soon after will I be able to stop taking my pain medication post RFA procedure?

Your previously prescribed pain medications can be stopped at the discretion of your physician.