Radiofrequency neurotomy is an injection procedure in which electrically produced heat is applied to compressed or irritated nerves in order to interrupt pain signals to and from the brain. In essence, the affected nerve is temporarily deadened in order to prevent sensations from traveling to the part of the body experiencing symptoms of pain, tingling or numbness. This procedure usually is held in reserve, not to be attempted until other forms of non-surgical treatment have proven ineffective. After a radiofrequency neurotomy, pain or other symptoms typically resurface in a year or less, once the cut nerve has begun to regenerate.
Facet or sacroiliac joints?
Radiofrequency neurotomy exists in two forms, depending on whether the pain comes from nerves associated with the facet joints or the sacroiliac joints (SI joints):
- Medial branch neurotomy – This is performed when the affected nerves branch off the facet joints, which are where the stacked vertebrae in the spine are connected. Facet joints enable vertebral movements, called flexion and extension. Facet disease, which is arthritic degeneration of the cartilage associated with the facet joints, can produce localized pain or refer radiating pain to other parts of the body.
- Lateral branch neurotomy – This is performed when the affected nerves branch off the SI joints, which are the joints where the pelvis meets the sacrum in the lower spine. Disorders of the SI joints typically cause localized or radiating lower back pain.
When radiofrequency neurotomy is not enough
Because nerves will regenerate over time, radiofrequency neurotomy is considered a temporary solution to chronic neck or back pain. If repeated attempts to deaden compressed or irritated nerves prove ineffective for treatment of facet disease or another degenerative condition, a physician might suggest surgery as an option. Rather than settle for highly invasive traditional open spine surgery, tens of thousands of patients have found relief at Laser Spine Institute. Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how one of our minimally invasive, outpatient procedures can help you find relief from your neck or back pain.