What is Radiofrequency Ablation and Can It Treat Arthritis Pain?

Jan 27, 2020 | Arthritis, Treatments

How Nerve Treatments Can Help Your Knee Joints

If you live with osteoarthritis, you’re probably familiar with conventional pain relief treatments: cortisone injections, gel shots, physical therapy and exercise. But have you heard of nerve ablation?

Known as radiofrequency ablation or RFA, this nonsurgical and minimally invasive procedure can improve arthritis pain for 12-18 months. That’s right: the effects of this one-time treatment can last more than one year. While nerve treatments can’t slow the progression of your arthritis, they get to the source of your pain, literally.

Compared to other treatments you have to receive multiple times a year, the idea that pain relief from RFA can last over a year sounds almost too good to be true. In this article, we’ll discuss the following details of this painless procedure:

  • What radiofrequency ablation is
  • How RFA works
  • If RFA is the right procedure for your condition

What is Radiofrequency Ablation?

By definition, ablation is the process of destroying, vaporizing, burning, or chipping away at something. In terms of medical procedures, you may have heard of using ablation to treat cardiac arrhythmias — where doctors burn a small area of heart tissue to regulate the heart’s rhythm.

This procedure is very similar to how a doctor can ablate tissue in your knees. The only difference is instead of burning heart muscles, the doctor temporarily destroys tiny nerve endings that control pain in the joint. Destruction of these small nerves in no way disrupts muscle or motor function so you are able to retain full feeling of the skin and full muscular strength after the procedure.

In terms of arthritis, RFA uses heat waves (similar to that of a microwave) to destroy the nerves that control the pain in your knee that send pain signals to your brain. Once destroyed, those nerve endings stop sending pain signals to your brain until they regenerate, which takes approximately one year. However, this length of time can differ for each patient.

How Radiofrequency Ablation Works

The nerves targeted by this procedure are incredibly small and are strictly sensory nerves responsible for the pain. Luckily, you won’t feel them being burned off because your doctor will apply a local anesthetic before the procedure begins.

Once the area has been numbed, your doctor will use a fluoroscopic x-ray to guide the needle near the known anatomy of the bone where the nerves in question live. A machine called an RF generator produces the heat required to vaporize the nerves. This intense heat is transferred to the end of the needle and obliterates the nerve ending responsible for the pain.

When Patients Should Consider Radiofrequency Ablation

RFA is ideal for patients who have tried traditional treatments such as gel shots and cortisone injections but haven’t experienced successful results. Indeed, we recommend that people pursue pain management strategies – including light exercise and physical therapy – before considering knee replacement surgery. RFA and other such tactics can improve your condition without resorting to surgery. Patients who have also previously undergone a Total Knee Arthroplasty or Replacement who are still suffering also benefit from these procedures.

If traditional treatments have failed, perhaps it’s time to consider RFA for your pain. Contact Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers today for a consultation.

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