Opioid Alternative: Radio Frequency Ablation

Radio Frequency Ablation: 

Prior to the Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA), your pain specialist will verify which nerves are causing your pain by conducting a Medial Branch Block. This procedure will allow your pain specialist to gauge the effectiveness of an RFA procedure before you receive it. Medial Branch Blocks can be inserted into the facet joints of the spine; your hip joint, sacroiliac joint, coccyx (tailbone), shoulder, elbow, hand, knee, ankle, and foot. If your Medial Branch Block test was successful, you will then proceed with an RFA procedure in the following weeks.

Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) is a pain relief treatment that reduces pain by deactivating the nerves responsible for your pain. This treatment, though longer-lasting than a Medial Branch block will provide pain relief for only 6-12 months, as your nerves will regenerate. More than 70% of people who receive RFA treatment experience pain relief.

The RFA Process:

A thin needle or probe is then inserted into the desired area. The probe uses an electrical current with radio-frequency energy to generate heat. These waves ablate (burn) the nerves that are causing pain. With the help of an x-ray, the doctor will direct a thin hollow needle into the pain region. This enables your doctor to view the needle in real-time on the monitor.  A numbing medication will be administered once the needle is in the correct position. Radiofrequency currents flow through the needle and deliver a small precise lesion about the size of a cotton swab tip. The goal of this process is to remove pain from injured areas. By doing so, this enables to you use that time to heal and regain muscle strength and function. 


RFA should NOT be performed on people who are pregnant, have infections, or have bleeding problems. Do not take blood thinner medications such as Aspirin or Excedrin. If you are taking any blood thinner prescriptions, make sure you talk with your doctor before discontinuing the use of these medications.


The human body has opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, heart, lungs, gastrointestinal, and reproductive tracts. These receptors exist because your body produces its own version of opioids, called endogenous opioids. Opioids produced by the body are harmless and give the body natural pain relief.

Manufactured opioids can come from opium, which is a derivative of the poppy plant, or from semi-synthetic alkaloids created in a laboratory. Common types of Opioids are Oxycodone, Fentanyl, Buprenorphine, Methadone, Oxymorphone, Hydrocodone, Codeine, Morphine, and Heroin. Opioids are often used for medicinal purposes because they contain chemicals that relax the body and relieve pain. Abusing opioids can lead to overdose, and may result in death. Opioids can aid in recovery, but taking them as directed can still pose a risk of addiction, as well as include harmful side effects. These side effects include hallucinations, anxiety, restlessness, drowsiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, and depression of the body’s respiratory system. Respiratory depression can result in coma, permanent brain damage or even death.

Opioid Dependency:

Long term use of opioids, even in the case of pain patients, impacts brain cell nerve function. These nerve cells adapt to the presence of opioids in the system, and when the brain perceives a lack of opioid stimulation, the patient can experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include muscle pain, excessive hunger, lethargy, loss of appetite, clammy skin, feeling cold, sweating, irritability, depression, paranoia, vomiting, nausea, mental confusion, racing thoughts, slowness in activity, feeling detached, insomnia, nightmares, seizures, pain sensitivity, slurred speech, trembling, and weakness.

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