Radiofrequency (RF) rhizotomy is a therapeutic nerve blocking procedure used to decrease or eliminate nerve pain symptoms. Usually, RF rhizotomy is used when nerve pain has not responded to more conservative treatments. The basic procedure destroys the nerves causing the pain. This is done with highly localized heat that is generated through waves of radiofrequency. Naturally, by destroying the roots of these nerves, pain signals can no longer be transmitted from the spine to the brain. Most importantly, this procedure reduces pain while ensuring that nerve function remains normal.
The actual procedure is only half the battle, the most important part is for your provider to identify where the pain is originating from. In order to know this, prior to the rhizotomy, you may go through tests such as an MRI or a nerve block injection with a short duration anesthetic. This allows your provider to see where the pain is.
During the procedure the patient will remain awake and under local anesthetic. It's important for patients to be awake during a rhizotomy so they can give feedback during the procedure to the provider. With X-ray guidance, the physician injects a contrast solution to the affected area. This is in order to highlight the patients anatomy and easily target the problem nerve. From there, the provider will use an anesthetic to desensitize the nerve. Heat will then be applied to the nerve, and the nerve root becomes burnt; this will break the communication link to the brain. Your condition will be monitored very closely throughout the procedure.
After the rhizotomy is complete, the local anesthetic effects will wear off and usual symptoms may return and may be more severe for up to a week after the procedure. A successful procedure can see improvement in about two to three weeks.*
*Adapted from the myCDI website. https://www.mycdi.com/knowledge_center/pain_management/radiofrequency_rf_rhizotomy_for_pain_relief/