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Radiofrequency Treatment

Radiofreqency treatment utilizes a specialized generator that produces a current that passes through a needle, which is heated by the current.

When the needle is placed near the facet joints, the painful area is heated, destroying nerve tissue surrounding the facet joint, interrupting pain signals from the joints.

Patient guidelines (PDF) ›

Procedure overview (PDF) ›

What is the goal of radiofrequency treatment?

The ultimate goal of radiofrequency treatment is to provide you with significant and lasting pain relief so that you may be able to resume normal activities. In some cases, a physical therapy program will be recommended as part of your treatment.

If successful, the effects of radiofrequency treatment can last from three to eighteen months. Because nerve tissue eventually regenerates, the pain relief from this treatment is not permanent.

What happens before a treatment?

You will be escorted to a procedure room where a nurse will conduct a pre-procedure interview.

The pain specialist who will be performing the injection will review your medical history, previous image studies and current medications, as well as conduct a physical exam.

What happens during the procedure?

You will remain awake during the entire process while your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing are continually monitored.

While you are lying face down on a procedure table, the injection site is cleansed with an antiseptic. This procedure involves inserting a needle through the skin, muscle and soft tissues, so there is some slight discomfort involved.

An injection of local anesthetic (numbing medication) will be administered in the area where you are experiencing pain. The physician then directs a needle through the skin with the use of X-ray guidance.

You will be asked to let the physician know when you feel a buzzing, tingling or pressure sensation in your back. This electrical stimulation is done before any heating of the area around the nerves takes place. This is a temporary sensation. The tissues surrounding the needle tip are then heated for 60 to 90 seconds at each level.

Radiofrequency takes approximately 45 minutes.

Should I limit my activity or change my diet after the injection?

No. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you may return to your usual activities.

Are there any side effects caused by radiofrequency treatment?

  • Immediately after the injection, you may feel that your pain is gone or is much less. This pain relief is often the result of the local anesthetic (numbing medication) and will usually only last a few hours.
  • You may experience a temporary increase in your usual pain that my last several days to two weeks.
  • Light touch at the site of injection might cause pain (a sunburn feeling) that usually subsides over several weeks. You can apply ice to the area for as long as 15 minutes, three to four times a day.
  • You may experience numbness in areas around the injection site. This may last for a few weeks.

Are there any restrictions after radiofrequency treatment?

Yes. You should follow these restrictions after the procedure:
  • Do not drive for the remainder of the day.
  • Do not take a tub bath or soak in water (pool, hot tub) for 24 hours after the injection.
  • Wait three days after the procedure before resuming physical therapy.

What are the medications used for radiofrequency treatment?

  • Lidocaine or bupivacaine are local anesthetics that are used to numb the area of injection; this numbness usually wears off within two to six hours.
  • Triamcinolone (Kenalog®) is a steroid used to treat inflammation and pain. The effects of this steroid may take up to 10 days to appear.

When should I call my doctor?

You should call your doctor immediately if any of the following occurs:
  • Swelling, redness, bleeding or discharge from the site of the injection
  • A fever greater than 100˚F
  • New or worsening back or neck pain
  • New numbness or weakness in your arms or legs
  • Difficulty with urination after the injection, such as suddenly losing control of your bladder
  • Difficulty with bowel movements after the injection, such as suddenly losing control of your bowels
  • You develop a new headache after the procedure
To be seen by one of our specialists, call 949-UCI-PAIN (949-824-7246) or request an appointment online ›

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To reach a doctor or nurse during business hours (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.), call 949-824-7246 and leave a message. Your call will be returned within 12 business hours.

After business hours or on weekends: call the main hospital at 714-456-7890 and ask the hospital operator to contact the doctor on call by paging 3386.