Radiofrequency (RF) rhizotomy, or RF neurotomy, is a procedure to decrease or eliminate back or neck pain. Physicians at Franciscan Health offer RF rhizotomy to patients with chronic pain that has not been relieved by other methods.
RF rhizotomy helps decrease pain by interrupting the sensory nerve pathways using a temperature-monitored probe. During the procedure, heat generated by radio waves is used to target specific nerves and temporarily interfere with their ability to transmit pain signals. The radio waves are delivered via needles inserted through the skin above your spine. Imaging scans are used during radiofrequency rhizotomy to help the doctor position the needles precisely.
RF rhizotomy does not work for everyone. Before patients can be scheduled for an RF rhizotomy procedure, they generally must undergo a series of spinal injections and/or discography tests to verify the exact source of their symptoms. Because RF has a very specific focus, when symptoms arise from a number of sources, RF may not be an effective solution.
Prior to the procedure an intravenous line (IV) will be started. You will be asked to lie flat on your stomach. You will be awake during the procedure because it is important for you to answer questions accurately during the entire procedure. The doctor will numb the areas with some local anesthetic. You will then feel a pressure sensation as the doctor inserts each needle into the correct locations. Once the needles are inserted, the doctor will test the sensory nerves of each target area and will ask you where you feel various sensations. The temperature probe will then be placed in each target location just long enough to interrupt the sensory nerve pathways. Then the doctor will inject some medication (local anesthetic and low-dose steroid) at each site before removing each needle. When the procedure is over you will be asked to lie down for 30 minutes on your back.
Pain relief benefits should be apparent within two to four weeks. It is not possible to predict to what extent, if any, this treatment will relieve your pain. Usually it provides long-term pain relief (i.e., three months or more), but the results vary with each individual.