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What is a Radiofrequency rhizotomy?

Radiofrequency Neurotomy, or Rhizotomy is a non-surgical, outpatient procedure used to effectively “shut off” pain signals being sent from the facet joints to the brain. These small joints are responsible for supporting weight and controlling movement between individual vertebrae of the spine. Although procedure is not a permanent fix to the root cause of pain, it is designed to decrease or eliminate pain by applying highly localized heat to burn the problematic nerve. Patients undergoing the rhizotomy procedure may experience relief for several months or even several years.

How is the procedure done?

Radiofrequency is used to deaden the nerves, shutting down pain signals sent from the joint to the brain. Utah Spine Care uses fluoroscopy (live x-ray guidance) for all Rhizotomy procedures.

  • Once you arrive to the office, an IV will be started to keep you comfortable and relaxed during the procedure.
  • The patient will lie on a procedure bed on his or her stomach.
  • Once your skin has been cleansed, your physician will inject a short-acting anesthetic (numbing agent) to the skin around the injection site.
  • Your physician will use x-ray guidance to find the correct area.
  • Once the correct area has been found, your physician will direct a spinal needle into the skin and toward the intended medial branch.
  • A small amount of electrical current will be passed through the needle to assure it is next to the intended nerve. This should temporarily recreate your usual pain and cause muscle twitches in your neck or back.
  • The nerves will then be numbed to minimize pain while the nerve is being burned.
  • Your physician will then apply heat to the problematic nerve by using an electrode. This will last for approximately 90 seconds on each nerve.
  • The heat is used to create a lesion, causing the nerve to become burnt. Once the nerve has been burnt then the communication link to the brain will be cut off.

This process will be repeated for usually 1-5 additional nerves. The entire procedure usually takes between 30-90 minutes.

How can I heal after the procedure?

After the procedure, the patient is wheeled into the recovery area and a nurse will monitor vital signs. On the day of the injection, you should not drive and should avoid any strenuous activities. On the day after the procedure, you may cautiously return to your regular activities. Your neck or back will be very sore during the several days. This pain is usually caused by muscle spasms and irritability while the targeted nerves are dying. Your physician may give you medicine to treat the expected spasms and soreness. You can also apply ice to the injection area to help with soreness. You will want to rest for several days before returning to your normal activities. Pain relief usually isn’t experienced until about 3-4 weeks after the procedure, once the nerves have completely died.