What is Radiofrequency Ablation?


Nothing drains your energy and diminishes your ability to enjoy life like chronic pain. If you live with ongoing pain, you also know how difficult it is to find temporary relief, much less a longer-lasting solution.

Dr. Khyber Zaffarkhan at Regenerative Institute of Newport Beach has helped many patients achieve long-lasting relief by performing a minimally invasive procedure called radiofrequency ablation. Here’s everything you need to know about how ablation works to deliver quick pain relief with minimal downtime.

Radiofrequency ablation deletes your pain

Radiofrequency ablation uses an electric current to heat and gently destroy (ablate) the nerves in your spine that are responsible for your pain. The procedure is often used to alleviate lower back and neck pain caused by spinal problems. But it’s also effective for chronic pain that originates anywhere in your body, including knee, abdominal and pelvic pain.

When a muscle, organ, joint, or any structure in your body becomes injured or diseased, peripheral nerves send a pain signal. The message goes to your spine, then through the spinal cord to your brain. You only feel the pain after your brain interprets the nerve signal.

Since all pain communication goes through the spinal cord, Dr. Z can determine which nerves in the spine are transmitting your pain signals. Then he uses radiofrequency ablation to destroy the nerve, which effectively stops the nerve impulse. When your brain doesn’t get the message, your pain is eliminated.

Although it doesn’t treat the physical cause of your pain, radiofrequency ablation goes directly to the source of the pain — the nerves telling your brain to feel pain.

Determining which nerves to treat with radiofrequency ablation

So how does Dr. Z know which nerves to treat? For starters, he reviews your medical history and performs diagnostic imaging to determine the cause of your pain. This gives him the information he needs to identify the nerves known to pick up pain messages for your underlying problem and where they enter the spinal cord.

For the next step, Dr. Z verifies he has the right nerves and simultaneously tests whether radiofrequency ablation will work for you by performing a nerve block. During a nerve block, he injects an anesthetic near the targeted nerve. If the medication diminishes your pain, he has the right nerve, and it’s a sign that you’ll respond well to ablation.

Radiofrequency ablation procedure

Radiofrequency ablation is delivered using a needle that carries the electric current to the nerve. This means you only need a local anesthetic to numb the area where the radiofrequency needle (or needles) will be inserted.

You can also take a low-dose sedative to help you relax, but you’ll be awake throughout the procedure. You may feel pressure when the needle is inserted, but your discomfort is minimal.

Using a specialized X-ray called fluoroscopy, which allows Dr. Z to see the needle in real-time, he inserts the needle and guides it to the desired location.

When the needle is in place, radiofrequency current passes through the needle and burns the targeted nerve, which stops pain-producing nerve signals. If needed, Dr. Z can ablate several nerves during one treatment.

When your procedure is finished, you’ll be monitored for a short time before going home. You’ll need to avoid strenuous activity for about two days, but you’ll be able to get back to work in 24-72 hours.

It doesn’t take long to feel the impact of ablation. Some patients experience immediate pain relief, while others may not get the full benefit for two to three weeks.

Long-lasting pain relief following radiofrequency ablation

After you go through this minimally invasive procedure, you can expect your pain relief to last from nine months to more than two years. Eventually the nerve regrows, establishing a new connection through the burned area. However, nerve regeneration through a burn lesion takes time, so you should still have diminished pain for at least six months.

Radiofrequency ablation is effective and safe, with minimal risk of complications. If long-term pain relief sounds like something you’re interested in, call Regenerative Institute of Newport Beach, or use online booking to schedule an appointment.