What is Rhizotomy and How Can it Help Relieve Back Pain?

Published on April 9, 2020 by The Spine Center

Back pain is so common that 8 out of 10 people suffer from it at some time during their lives. But if your back pain has persisted for 12 weeks or more, it has stopped being acute and has become chronic. You need relief. Back pain doesn’t just limit your physical abilities; being in pain for weeks, months, or years takes a toll on your emotions, too, and can even cause depression.

The medical experts at The Spine Center of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, Walker, and Prairieville, Louisiana, are committed to finding the most effective, cutting-edge, and minimally invasive therapies for back pain available. Depending on what’s causing your back pain, they may recommend a simple procedure called rhizotomy to turn down the volume on your aching back.

What rhizotomy is

Rhizotomy is also known as radiofrequency (RF) ablation. If you’re a candidate for rhizotomy, your doctor ablates (i.e., destroys) the nerves that are causing your pain. 

Nerves cause pain by sending signals to your brain that alert it to an injury. However, when the nerve itself has been damaged, the pain signals are constant, which is why you feel pain nearly all of the time. Rhizotomy destroys the nerve so it can’t send a pain signal anymore.

Who benefits from rhizotomy

You may get pain relief from rhizotomy if you have swollen and inflamed facet joints. The facet joints are the bony protrusions on the ends of your vertebral discs that attach the vertebrae to each other so you can bend, flex, and twist your spine.

If you injure a facet joint in an accident, fall, or collision, the soft tissue of the joint becomes inflamed and swollen, which irritates your nerves. If you have arthritis in your facet joints, the friction of bone-on-bone can pinch and irritate your nerves, too.

Before becoming a candidate for rhizotomy, your doctor may recommend a medial branch block to subdue inflammation and reduce pain. The process of finding the right nerves to inject for the block also lets your doctor know which nerves should be targeted during rhizotomy. If medial branch blocks, facet joint injections, or other therapies don’t sufficiently reduce your back pain, your Spine Center of Louisiana specialist may recommend rhizotomy.

What happens during rhizotomy

Rhizotomy is a simple, minimally invasive procedure that our doctors perform in our offices. You’re awake for the procedure, so you can communicate with your doctor. 

While you lie face down on the treatment table, your specialist injects the treatment area with a local anesthetic to numb the pain. Then they make a tiny incision and insert a miniature camera, which transmits a magnified, 3-D image of your spine to a monitor. Watching the monitor, they insert a small electrode into the medial branch nerves that service your painful facet joint. 

Once the electrode is in place, they send a current through the probe that destroys the nerve tissue. The entire procedure only takes about 30–60 minutes, depending on how many nerves must be ablated.

What happens after rhizotomy

After your rhizotomy, our team gives you aftercare instructions, which include returning to your normal activities as soon as possible. You may have a little swelling or soreness at the treatment site, but moving your back is important to your recovery. 

Your doctor may also talk to you about exercises you can do to strengthen your back, and may recommend other lifestyle changes, such as stress management, to help keep your back muscles relaxed. Though rhizotomy doesn’t completely turn off your back pain, you should feel a significant increase in comfort and mobility that can last for months or even a year or more.

Find out if rhizotomy is the treatment you need to turn down the volume on your back pain. Call us at 833-774-6327 or book an appointment online at the office nearest you.

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