Radiofrequency neurotomy is a non-surgical procedure that uses heat to deaden a nerve causing chronic pain in the back, neck, or buttocks (sacroiliac joint). This procedure, also called radiofrequency ablation or facet rhizotomy, is usually performed on an outpatient basis.
A lumbar facet radiofrequency neurotomy is used to treat pain in the lower back.
A cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is used to treat nerve pain in the neck or shoulder.
Your doctor will use fluoroscopy (a live X-ray) to precisely target a needle next to the nerve that has been identified as causing your pain. Testing will then be conducted to confirm that the needle is near the nerve and not near a motor or sensory nerve.
Once the correct needle positioning is confirmed, a local anesthetic is used to numb the area. A small electrical current is then passed through the needle to generate localized, targeted heat. The heat kills the nerve and stops it from sending pain responses to the brain, while nearby healthy nerves remain undamaged.
Because nerves regenerate, pain signals will eventually be able to travel along those nerves again. Relief from this procedure, however, usually lasts between 10 and 18 months.
The recovery period is fairly short, and after a day or two of rest, a patient can usually resume regular activities.