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Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) | Rhizotomy

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), also referred to as a Radiofrequency Neurotomy and Rhizotomy procedure, is a minimally invasive procedure that involves a short recovery time and little scar tissue.  In this procedure, radiofrequency waves are delivered to certain nerves and the electrical current produced heats up a small area of nerve tissue, with the goal of interrupting pain signals to the brain.

Facet joints are pairs of cartilage joints between each vertebra in the spine. When they degenerate or get injured, they may inflame, tear and even pinch in toward the spinal canal and cord. Damage to facet joints may cause pain because the joints themselves are highly innervated, meaning that they contain many sensitive nerves.

After an ablation or rhizotomy, you should not feel the pain caused by a damaged joint facet. While it doesn’t reverse the damage caused by degeneration, it is an effective treatment for many severe back pain symptoms that include pain that is facetogenic (caused by the facet) in nature.  This procedure, when paired with proper exercise and lifestyle changes, can help combat back and spinal conditions.

How Radiofrequency Ablation | Rhizotomy Procedures Work

The Rhizotomy or RFA commonly treats facet joint pain in the spine. It requires no general anesthesia and is a safe alternative to open-back surgery. The process is as follows:

  1. Commonly the patients receive a local anesthetic on the skin and sedation via IV.
  2. The doctor places a small tube called a “cannula” into the back that allows for the procedure without damaging surrounding muscles.
  3. The doctor heats and deadens or may even surgically cut the sensory nerve responsible for back pain around the facets and disc.
  4. The surgeon removes the tube and instruments used, bandages the areas treated, and will conduct further ablations if necessary on other joints.

The surgery is complete after post-procedure monitoring. Following the office visit, you should take a short walk, but avoid intense exertion for the rest of the day following the procedure. The procedure may take less than an hour to perform, not counting the post-op monitoring. Scarring is minimal, and you will be able to quickly return to your normal activities. 

Conditions Treated by Radiofrequency Ablation | Rhizotomy

RFAs | Rhizotomies may be used to treat a number of back and spinal conditions. These include:

  • Facet joint syndrome
  • Facet hypertrophy
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Annular tearing
  • Degenerative facet joints


Any symptoms in which the spinal cartilage degrades or has degraded leading to back pain may be treated with an RFA | Rhizotomy. 

Getting a Radiofrequency Ablation | Rhizotomy | Neurotomy

Contact a physician for a professional diagnosis and recommendation before receiving an RFA.  Your doctor may recommend that you get an X-ray or MRI scan before suggesting this procedure.

Ask your doctor if facet thermal ablation is right for you as they are generally used to treat more severe forms of back injury.  That said, they do have a high rate of success and have been shown to provide short to even long-term relief. Lastly, the procedure can be repeated if necessary as the nerves treated have the ability to re-grow.