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How Radiofrequency Ablation Can Help Back Pain

February 23, 2024

Poster for video how_radiofrequency_ablation_works_to_treat_back_pain (1080p)

The spine is a complex structure of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, disks, and nerves.

Ideally, these parts all work together seamlessly. However, if the disks that sit between the bones, or vertebrae, of the spine move out of their position, that can cause pain—particularly in the lower back.

“Through wear and tear or through injury, the disk can move out of position and put pressure on the nerves,” explains Jennifer Hankensen, MD, a Yale Medicine physiatrist. “The nerves that travel from the spinal cord to your arms and legs control your movements and determine if you experience pain. If there is compression, your body can start to send pain signals, or in severe cases, it can lead to weakness or loss of use of your arm or leg.”

When standard pain treatments don’t improve symptoms, radiofrequency ablation may be an option.

“Ablation is a fancy word for tissue destruction,” says Igor Latich, MD, a Yale Medicine interventional radiologist. “We can target nerves using heat or cold via small probes.”

The probes are needles placed under the skin that send radio waves to the sensory nerves. By destroying a small section of those nerves, the pain signal is interrupted, and the patient no longer experiences pain, Dr. Latich explains.

“And the hope is that if you can reduce the pain, you can add in physical therapy or slowly increase physical activity, which overall should help the health of the spine,” Dr. Hankensen adds.

In the video above, Drs. Hankensen and Latich talk more about how radiofrequency ablation can help chronic back pain and other issues.