A radiofrequency neurotomy is a type of injection procedure used to treat facet joint pain or sacroiliac joint pain caused by arthritis or other degenerative changes, or from an injury.
In this procedure, a heat lesion is created on certain nerves with the goal of interrupting the pain signals to the brain, thus eliminating pain.
The terms radiofrequency ablation and radiofrequency neurotomy are used interchangeably. Both terms refer to a procedure that destroys the functionality of the nerve using radiofrequency energy.
There are two primary types of radiofrequency ablation:
- A medial branch neurotomy (ablation) affects the nerves carrying pain from the facet joints
- A lateral branch neurotomy (ablation) affects nerves that carry pain from the sacroiliac joints.
These medial or lateral branch nerves do not control any muscles or sensation in the arms or legs, so a heat lesion poses little danger of negatively affecting those areas. The medial branch nerves do control small muscles in the neck and mid or low back, but loss of these nerves has not proved harmful.
Medial Branch/Lateral Branch Nerve Block
Before the radiofrequency ablation procedure, a lateral branch or medial branch nerve block will have already been performed to prove that the patient’s pain is being transmitted by those nerves. The medial branch or lateral branch block acts as a test run before the neurotomy procedure.