Every day in this country, millions of people suffer from chronic pain and are desperate to find relief. For many, the road to managing chronic pain can be complex and can include prescription medications, over-the-counter products, lifestyle modifications and physical therapy. But when those options have been exhausted and the pain continues, many people aren’t sure where to turn.
According to Paul Lynch, M.D., a nationally recognized expert in pain management and founder of Pain Doctor, Inc., many of his patients find relief through a minimally invasive, well-established procedure called radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Lynch says that some patients suffering from low back pain, neck pain or various types of nerve pain may find significant pain relief when they’re treated with RFA.
How does RFA therapy work?
During an RFA procedure, radio waves are used to generate heat that can be applied to nerve clusters responsible for causing a person’s pain. This controlled, targeted heat destroys the nerve’s ability to transmit pain while avoiding damage to nearby nerves that control movement and non-painful sensations.
According to Lynch, RFA is normally performed with a local anesthetic and mild sedation to increase patient comfort. Many physicians will also rely on fluoroscopy (otherwise known as live X-ray) to help guide them during RFA procedures. Advanced RFA generators, such as those developed by St. Jude Medical, support physicians further by providing real-time temperature monitoring, improved procedural feedback and shorter procedure times.
In the weeks following an RFA procedure, many patients report a reduction in pain in their affected area. This reduction can last months or longer. Researchers (Dreyfuss, et al., 2000) found that if patients are carefully selected and RFA is applied accurately using correct surgical technique, the majority of patients will experience at least a 50 percent reduction in pain that can last up to a year from the time of their RFA procedure.
Insight from the Clinic
Dr. Lynch recalled a typical case example of a patient who found pain relief from RFA after suffering a traumatic back injury after a serious car accident. After four operations the patient was in constant pain not effectively managed by other pain management options.
“With this particular patient, we were seeing him miss out on his favorite activities and he was in most respects homebound,” said Lynch. “Weary of continuing to treat his pain with prescription medications but fearful of more surgery, he sought help.”
After assessing his medical history and ongoing, chronic lower back pain, Lynch suggested RFA. Following his RFA procedure, the patient’s pain was reduced, as was his opioid prescription for pain management.
Is RFA right for you?
You or a loved one may be a candidate for RFA if you have an appropriate chronic pain condition that has not responded to low-risk medications and conservative treatments such as physical therapy and chiropractic care. In addition, it is standard practice that you first try anesthetic injections of the targeted nerve. If doing so provides significant temporary pain relief of the area, RFA of the same nerve is likely to be effective.
Research has shown that RFA can provide substantial pain reduction for months. For some patients, the relief may be permanent as they are able to go years without requiring additional treatments. RFA may also allow patients to reduce or stop their use of some medications.
RFA may involve clinical risk, and patients are advised to talk to their doctor about whether RFA is right for their pain condition, and to discuss the potential risks, warnings, precautions and potential adverse events associated with RFA. For example, patients can experience pain during their procedure, as well as loss of pain relief. The procedure may also entail surgical risks. RFA equipment may entail risk such as electrical shock and hazards related to the equipment used during the procedure. Physicians should weigh the risk and benefits associated with RFA before treating patients with the procedure. Dr. Lynch noted that his patient’s experience is not indicative of the experience all patients will receive from RFA therapy.
“Radiofrequency ablation can be a very useful tool for treating certain types of chronic pain,” says Dr. Lynch. “In my clinical experience, the effectiveness of RFA can compare favorably with other treatments for some patients, such as medications or more invasive treatments. RFA is one of the most common interventional pain procedures in use today.”
To find a physician in your area who can talk to you about RFA, visit www.poweroveryourpain.com.