Facet Joint Radio-Frequency

Intended Benefits

Radio frequency uses radio waves to create heat to stun or shock a nerve. This is done to provide longer lasting pain relief than that experienced from other pain injections.

The procedure will normally only be done after you have had a course of diagnostic medial branch injections. Needles to deliver the radio waves will be placed near the nerves to be treated, in a similar way to those needles put in to place local anaesthetic and/or steroid when you were having previous pain injection treatments such as the facet joint injections. A small dose of steroid is also added.

Steroids are used worldwide in pain relieving injections but have never been licensed by their manufacturers for this purpose. It is not known exactly how the steroid produces pain relief, but we assume that it reduces inflammation around the nerves and that this reduces pressure and pain. If you suffer from diabetes the use of steroids in pain injections may cause your blood sugars to change. Please discuss any questions you have about steroid use with your pain doctor

This can anaesthetise the facet joints and block the pain. The pain relief from a facet joint injection is intended to help a patient better tolerate a physical therapy routine to rehabilitate their back condition. Facet joint injections usually have two goals: to help diagnose the cause and location of pain and to provide pain relief:

1. Diagnostic Goals: By anaesthetising the joint, the amount of pain relief experienced by the patient will help confirm or deny the joint as a source of pain.
2. Pain Relief Goals: Along with the local anaesthetic, a facet joint injection includes a slow acting steroid. This acts to reduce any inflammation and so provide long term pain relief.

Risks of this treatment

Immediately after the injection, your legs may feel tingly and heavy. This is because the local anaesthetic partially blocks the nerve to your legs. It will wear off after a few hours. It is important not to get out of bed until your legs feel completely normal. As with any injection, there is a very small chance of getting an infection where the needle is placed.

Every effort is made to avoid this with use of skin-cleaning solution, sterile gloves and equipment. The procedure is made as safe as possible by being performed by an experienced pain doctor. They may use x-rays to show exactly where they are putting the needles and will constantly monitor you throughout the procedure. You may discuss the risks further with your pain doctor

Pre-operative assessment & Care

If you become pregnant, have any major illnesses/hospital admissions or start taking anticoagulant drugs (for example warfarin or clopidogrel) discuss this with the pain doctor before the procedure. If you have diabetes, you may need to make some changes to your diabetes medicine or diet on the day of the procedure. You should discuss this with your pain doctor before your procedure.

On the day of the procedure:

Follow the instructions given to you by the Day Surgical Unit staff about when last to eat or drink.

  • Take all your usual medication including your painkillers
  • Bring all your usual medication, or a list of what you are taking with you.
  • Make sure that someone will collect you, take you home, and is available to stay with you overnight.

During the procedure

At the Day Surgical Unit your pain doctor will see you and explain the procedure fully. Before the procedure starts a small cannula (tube) may be placed in a vein in the back of your hand through which we may give you medicines and fluids if that becomes necessary.

You may be given medication (sedation) to make you feel sleepy during the injection. An oxygen mask may be placed over your face. A needle is then placed next to the nerve tobe treated. A radiowave is then sent through the needle tip but this is not felt.

Finally, mixture of slow-release steroid and local anaesthetic is injected. This is repeated until all the nerves have been treated. The procedure may take up to 45 minutes.

After the procedure your blood pressure, pulse and respiration rate may be checked. After the procedure – what to expect Commonly you may feel an increase in the pain coming from your back/neck for several days. The injections may take 10 days or more to relieve your pain. For some people, the injection may not work at all.

You may feel weak or tired for a little while after the injection so we advise that you rest for 24 hours. During this time you should not: drive a car or operate equipment, sign any legal documents or drink alcohol. You should continue taking your usual medication and the next day you may take a bath or shower and remove any plasters. Please contact your GP (family doctor) if you have any symptoms causing you concern and if:

  • There is unusual redness or swelling at the injection site
  • Your temperature is 38° C (100.4 F) or greater

After discharge home

To get the best out of your radio-frequency ablation you should

  • Continue with your usual medication
  • Generally keep active, but within your pain limits
  • Re-introduce previously painful activities gradually over the next few weeks
  • Maintain any exercise routine you may have been given by your physiotherapist


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Telephone: 01256 377741
Email: info@thepainteam.com

Fax: 01256 377665 Address: The Pain Team c/o The Hampshire Clinic Old Basing Hampshire RG24 7AL

Practice Manager: Karen: karen@thepainteam.com Admin: Michelle: michelle@thepainteam.com Rob Baylis private secretary & medical legal work Name: Philippa Williams Email: pippa@thepainteam.com Tel / Fax: 023 9225 6300 The Pain Team Limited Registered Company Number: 07204359 Registered in England and Wales