Radiofrequency ablation vs. steroid injections: which is a better treatment for back pain?
If you’re struggling with back pain, you may wonder whether radiofrequency ablation (RFA) or steroid injections are your best treatment option. Both RFA and steroid injections are effective treatments for back pain, but they work in different ways. So, which is the better treatment? It depends entirely on your unique symptoms and goals.
RFA is a minimally invasive procedure that uses heat to destroy the nerve tissue responsible for transmitting pain signals to your brain. It’s a safe and effective treatment option with a low risk of side effects. Steroid injections, on the other hand, are designed to reduce inflammation and pain by delivering a powerful anti-inflammatory medication directly to the site of pain.
Pros & Cons of Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation is an effective treatment for chronic pain. In a study of patients with chronic low back pain, RFA effectively reduced pain in the short term and improved function in the long term. RFA is a minimally invasive procedure, so it has a low risk of complications, and the recovery time is shorter than surgery. Furthermore, radiofrequency ablation destroys the nerve fibers responsible for carrying pain signals to your brain, promising long-lasting relief.
But RFA is a medical procedure, and like all medical procedures, it has some risks. The most common side effect of RFA is pain at the site of the procedure. Other risks include infection, nerve damage, and spinal cord injury, but these potential complications only happen in the rarest of circumstances. Your cervical RFA procedure may have to be accompanied by other solutions to improve overall function.
Pros & Cons of Steroid Injections
Steroid injections can effectively treat chronic back pain. During a steroid injection, the back pain doctor injects an anti-inflammatory medicine into the epidural space around your spine to reduce inflammation and pain in the affected area. This procedure can relieve pain for several months at a time, and the risk of side effects and complications is negligible.
However, like all medical treatments, steroid injections also have potential side effects, such as pain, redness, swelling, infection, and nerve damage. The risk of infection and nerve damage is negligible. Furthermore, steroid injections alleviate pain and inflammation but don’t address the root cause of back pain, so the pain may return after a few months.
Verdict: Which is Better?
Both radiofrequency ablation and steroid injections are suitable minimally invasive treatments for back pain. Your back pain doctor may start with steroid injections and provide radiofrequency ablation if your back pain returns. Which treatment you need will depend entirely on your medical history, the root cause of your problem, and the pain doctor’s assessment.
Back Center New Jersey is led by highly-skilled, board-certified interventional pain doctors who diagnose the root cause of your back pain and curate a personalized treatment plan. They will discuss your minimally invasive treatment options and recommend the appropriate procedure to ensure safe, consistent, and long-lasting relief from back pain without relying on opioids.
You can find our state-of-the-art back centers in Clifton, Paramus, Woodland Park, and West Orange. Our Clifton back center is located on Route 46-E, just past the ford dealership. Our Paramus back center is near the Paramus Park Mall and close to Garden State Plaza. Please schedule an appointment at your nearest back center in New Jersey.
What happens during the cervical RFA procedure?
The cervical RFA procedure is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure for back pain. It’s performed using a local anesthetic and sedation, so you will be awake during the procedure but not feel any pain.
First, the doctor will make a small incision in your skin and insert a thin needle electrode into the affected area of your spine. Then, they will use radiofrequency waves to heat up the tissue and produce lesions (areas of necrosis). This will interrupt the pain signals being sent to your brain. The procedure takes about 30 minutes, and you can go home the same day. You may experience some soreness and swelling at the incision site, but this should resolve within a few days. Most people report significant improvements in their pain levels within a week or two of the procedure.
What happens during a radiofrequency ablation medial branch block?
The medial branch is a small nerve that extends outward from the spinal column to the facet joints. These joints are what allow the spine to move and bend. The medial branch block is a pain treatment that uses radiofrequency waves to target and heat up the medial branch nerves. This causes the nerves to die and no longer be able to send pain signals to the brain.
The radiofrequency ablation medial branch block is a minimally invasive procedure that only takes 15-30 minutes. You will be asked to lie on your stomach on an X-ray table. Your doctor will use a local anesthetic to numb the skin over the treatment area. Then, they will insert a needle into the facet joint using real-time X-ray guidance. A small wire will be passed through the needle and positioned next to the medial branch nerve.
Once the wire is in place, the tip of the wire will be heated using radiofrequency waves. You may feel a brief burning sensation. This heat will damage the nerve, so it can no longer send pain signals. The needle and wire will then be removed.
You may feel some relief from your pain immediately after the procedure. However, it can take up to 2 weeks for the full effect of the nerve damage to take place. The nerve will eventually regrow, but this usually takes 6-12 months. The radiofrequency ablation can be repeated if necessary.