Radiofrequency lesioning explained

October 14, 2020

radiofrequency lesioning Radiofrequency lesioning (RFL) is a procedure we have at Southside Pain Specialists that interrupts nerve conduction. It is a semi-permanent, outpatient procedure that blocks specific nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.

This treatment may be beneficial if you experience persistent back and neck pain. The pain most often radiates from joints along the spine, specifically that of the facet joint. When you have exhausted other options for pain management, RFL may be a good next step we can try. 

Details about radiofrequency lesioning

When having the procedure, you will lie on your stomach. We clean the treatment site, then inject a local anesthetic to minimize discomfort. You can choose to have an IV for sedation, with a range of options varying from slight drowsiness to fully sedated.

Our physicians use a fluoroscopy (x-ray) device to guide the radiofrequency needle to the correct nerves. Radiofrequency waves then go through the needle to the targeted nerve. These currents heat the nerve to about 175 degrees Fahrenheit. After two minutes, the nerve is “damaged,” which prevents pain signals from traveling to the brain. By disrupting this communication between the nerve and the brain, your pain should be reduced. 

After the procedure, you will stay at our clinic for monitoring. If you opted for heavier sedation, you may need to stay for a longer period for monitoring. Either way, you will likely be released within a couple of hours. 

The procedure may result in pain or soreness at the injection site. We will highly recommend that you only partake in light activities over the next day or two. You can expect the full benefits of radiofrequency lesioning to take effect in about one week.

Radiofrequency lesioning FAQs

Many patients find this treatment option interesting, and we often hear many questions about it. Here are several of the most common questions and answers.

What kinds of conditions might RFL successfully treat?

Are there any potential risks?

This is a safe, low-risk procedure. However, there have been reported complications, such as nerve pain, neuroma, infection, and allergic reaction to the medication used during the procedure. Temporary side effects can include numbness in your legs or swelling and/or bruising at the incision site. 

What are the main benefits?

The procedure disrupts nerve conduction to hopefully reduce pain and other related symptoms for 9 to 18 months. Approximately 70 to 80% of patients will get a good block of the intended nerve. This should help relieve that part of the pain that the blocked nerve controls. Sometimes after a nerve is blocked, it becomes clear that there is pain from other areas as well.

How long does the procedure take?

Depending on the areas to be treated, the procedure can take from about 30 minutes to an hour.

Will it be painful?

We begin the procedure by injecting a small amount of local anesthetic through a very small needle. It feels like a little pinch and then a slight burning as the local anesthetic starts numbing the skin. After the skin is numb, you may feel a bit of pressure at the injection site. Most people choose to be drowsy or more heavily sedated.

When can I go back to work after the procedure?

This may depend on your specific job, but many people return the work the next day. Some people choose to take off work for a day or two.

Will I need multiple procedures over time?

We will evaluate the need for additional RFL procedures when you come in for subsequent visits. The nerves we are lesioning do have the ability to re-grow, so it may be beneficial to repeat the procedure in the future.