RFN's (Radio Frequency Neurotomies): What Are They and Can They Help Your Pain?

December 8, 2010  |  John T. Buchman

RFN’s are a way to treat certain sources of neck and back pain that have not responded to medications, physical therapy, chiropractic care or massage therapy.
RFN’s have been used for over 30 years. They have been used more frequently in the last 10 years to treat neck and back pain arising from car crashes. There is a lot of medical literature discussing them and their effectiveness over time. Visit the Mayo Clinic website for more information about it.
The RFN treats a damaged “facet” joint(s) in the spinal vertebral column. A damaged joint sends pain messages to the brain along a known nerve pathway. To determine if the facet joint is the cause of the patients pain, a pain killing agent is injected along the nerve with the aid of a fluoroscope on two different trials. If the pain is then relieved, the next step is to interrupt the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals through the application of heat. This sounds worse than it actually is since I have undergone RFN’s several times myself.
A successful RFN procedure will virtually eliminate the patient’s pain for 8-12 months. I have heard my clients explain how relieved they were to finally be without pain. However, the process has to be repeated since the nerve sheath regrows over time and begins to re-transmit pain signals.
Most insurers as well as state and federal insurance programs pay for the procedure. It takes 45 minutes to an hour and I was able to go back to work the following day after each procedure.
However, RFN’s will not help everyone. It will not be effective if the cause of pain in due to other sources like arthritis, damaged discs or muscles. Contact me if you want to learn more about this procedure.