Radiofrequency denervation

Posted June, 2008

Sometimes Dr. Robb may elect to employ this procedure to destroy pain-causing nerves. Biologically, the end result is similar to nerve blocks that utilize a chemical solution to remove these nerves, but it works via a different process.

Dr. Robb will inject a local anesthetic into the area of the back where he'll be working. He'll then insert a guide tube that helps to locate the probe next to the offending nerves. This wire probe can generate radio waves of specific frequencies and intensities.

Radio waves (as anybody who has a microwave oven knows) cause material that contains water to heat up on impact. There's an interesting difference between motor nerves (which control your ability to move your body) and sensory nerves (which allow you to feel, but may also generate pain signals). Motor nerves are able to tolerate a warmer environment than sensory nerves can stand.

When Dr. Robb turns on the probe, radio waves strike the region that's causing pain. The area heats up (just like it's inside a tiny microwave oven). Because sensory nerves "can't take the heat," they wither and die back. This should relieve the pain they're causing.

The length of time the pain relief lasts varies due to several issues too complex to go into here. As with chemical denervation, the nervous tissue will grow back. However most patients find they get long-term relief. Because they're able to return to a more normal life, in many cases this improves their overall outlook and physical condition, making them less likely to experience the same pain from which they'd been suffering.