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Radiofrequency Ablation

A radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure for treating neck, shoulder, and back pain. It is also called facet thermal coagulation or rhizotomy. This information will explain what it is. Your doctor can explain if it is for you.

What are facet joints?

Facet joints connect the vertebrae, the bones of the spine. They help guide your spine when you move. These are the joints that commonly develop arthritis, also referred to as degenerative joint disease (DJD). Facet joints are found on both sides of the spine. Each is about the size of a thumbnail. Facet joints are named for the vertebrae they connect and the side of the spine where they are found. The right C3-4 facet joint, for example, joins the 3rd and 4th vertebrae on the right side.

What is facet joint pain?

You may feel pain if a facet joint is injured. Sometimes it feels like simple muscle tension. Other Times it can be severe pain. The cartilage inside the joint may be injured. Other times only connecting ligaments surrounding the joint are injured. Facet pain also depends on which joint is affected. Facet joint pain can occur in an area from your head down to your back/spine.

How do I know if I have facet pain?

If you have pain in one or more of these areas of the spine, and it lasts longer than two months, you may have facet pain. Common tests such as x-rays or MRIs may not show if a facet joint is
causing pain. The best way to diagnose facet pain is to block the pain signal in a medial branch nerve.

What is facet RFA?

RFA uses radiofrequency energy to disrupt nerve function. When this is done to a medial branch nerve, the nerve can no longer transmit pain from an injured facet joint.

How long can I expect pain relief?

Nerves regenerate after an RFA, but how long this takes varies. Your pain may or may not return when the nerves regenerate. If it does, another RFA can be done.