Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy (RF) is a minimally invasive procedure, also known as a Radio Frequency (RF), used to treat nerve pain in the neck and shoulder region, a condition often termed facet joint disease. RF reduces or eliminates the pain of damaged facet joints by ‘turning off’ the nerve that carries the pain signals. The spine’s cervical area is located in your neck and consists of 7 small bones (vertebrae). Except for the first two, a pair of stabilizing facet joints connects each of the vertebrae in the spinal column. Located within the protected canal is the spinal cord, carrying nerve signals from the spine to the brain. Medial nerves carry specific nerve signals about facet join pain. The facet joints in the neck are vulnerable to degradation, and over time can develop abnormal growths (bone spurs), enlarged joints and osteoarthritis. Facet joins can also be susceptible to trauma caused by sudden injury.
Facet join disease can cause pain in the neck that may spread to the head, shoulders, upper arms and even the hands. You may experience powerful muscle spasms that can move the facet joints out of their natural position. The RF procedure uses heat to damage the area identified as the pain source. This lesion prevents the medial nerve to transmit signals about facet joint pain to the brain. When the nerve is ‘turned off,’ the pain is no longer felt.
Imaging tests, lab tests and nerve studies can help your health care professional determine the cause of the pain. An injection study may be needed to identify a specific nerve conducting the pain signals. After the nerve is identified, your doctor will use live x-ray to insert and guide a needle like tube to the affected nerve and insert a small electrode through the tube (cannula). When a test has determined that the pain source has been targeted, heat is delivered by electrode to disrupt the nerve path. The out patient procedure is performed only after less invasive forms of treatment have failed to provide long-term relief. With care, regular activity may be resumed within several days, though it typically takes 3-4 weeks for the treated nerve to completely degenerate and the soreness to be eliminated. Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy pain relief typically lasts 9-14 months, although it may last for up to two years. Over time, however, the nerves will regenerate. If the pain returns, the procedure may be repeated.