A minimally invasive treatment for neck pain in Lakeland, Florida

A cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation is a procedure specifically designed to target and interrupt pain signals from the facet joints in the neck to help treat neck pain. The procedure is minimally invasive.

In This Article:

If conventional treatments haven’t helped relieve the pain, exploring advanced pain relief options like cervical branch radiofrequency ablation may help manage your persistent neck pain. Let’s delve into the details of the procedure and understand its role in pain management.

The Basics: Cervical Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation

Medial branch nerves send pain messages from the spinal joints to the brain. The nerves run through the small joints that connect the vertebrae of the spine (facets), which facilitate movement and stability in the neck. A cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation is a targeted treatment for helping relieve chronic pain in the neck, shoulder, and upper back regions by disrupting the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals.

Radiofrequency energy is used during the procedure to create a controlled lesion on the medial branch nerves. The lesion then prevents the nerve from relaying pain from these joints to the brain. By doing so, the procedure can help provide relief from neck pain that does not respond to more conservative treatments.

Who is a Candidate for Cervical Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation?

Candidates for cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation typically have chronic neck pain that can be traced to the facet joints. Such individuals may have exhausted other forms of treatment, like medication and physical therapy, without sufficient relief.

A medial branch block is a diagnostic procedure performed to pinpoint the souce of neck and back pain. If there is significant temporary pain relief following the block, this confirms the diagnosis, making the patient a potential candidate for radiofrequency ablation.

To further qualify, patients should:

  • Have chronic neck pain lasting for more than two months.
  • Show no evidence of improvement from conservative treatments.
  • Not have any contraindications to the procedure (e.g., bleeding disorder, infection at the site, or certain types of spinal instability).
  • Demonstrate good overall health to tolerate the procedure.

A thorough evaluation by a pain doctor is recommended to determine the suitability of radiofrequency ablation.

How Does Radiofrequency Ablation Work?

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) works by delivering heat to specific nerve tissues to reduce or stop the transmission of pain signals to the brain. During the procedure, a needle is inserted near the problematic nerve. Radio waves are then passed through the needle, generating heat and creating tiny burns, or lesions, on the nerve endings. This process disrupts the nerve’s ability to communicate pain, effectively reducing the patient’s perception of pain.

The targeted area is carefully selected based on diagnostic tests, including MRI or CT scans, and prior successful response to a cervical nerve block. Precise needle placement is confirmed through live fluoroscopy, ensuring the correct nerves are ablated. This allows for an efficient RFA procedure with the least amount of disruption to surrounding tissues.

Potential Benefits and Efficacy of Cervical Medial Branch RFA

Choosing cervical RFA offers several advantages for those suffering from chronic neck and certain types of headache or upper back pain. Firstly, because RFA is minimally invasive, it requires no significant incisions, which results in reduced recovery time compared to traditional surgery. Additionally, there is minimal risk of complications, and the procedure often provides longer-lasting pain relief compared to steroid injections or nerve blocks.

Secondly, cervical RFA allows you to potentially reduce or even eliminate the need for pain medications, especially opioids, reducing the risk of medication side effects and dependencies. This presents a more sustainable pain management strategy in the long term.

Another critical advantage is the potential for improved quality of life; many patients post-RFA experience a significant reduction in pain, which can lead to improved sleep, increased activity levels, and a better overall mood.

Additionally, the procedure can be a repeatable treatment if the pain returns, as nerves can regenerate over time. The outpatient nature of the procedure provides the added benefit of going home the same day, minimizing hospital-related expenses and complications.

The procedure is best for those patients seeking a non-surgical option for long-lasting relief from chronic cervical facet joint pain.

It is important to note that RFA is not a permanent solution, as the nerves may regrow. In addition, the effectiveness will vary between patients.

Clinical Success Rates

Cervical RFA has shown encouraging success rates in clinical studies. Research suggests at least a 50% overall pain reduction rate of approximately 54% for patients undergoing the procedure. This significant level of pain reduction often translates to improved functionality and quality of life for most patients.

Many patients report relief from debilitating pain that had previously hindered their daily activities. Patients report enhanced daily functioning and quality of life. They also report significant or complete relief from chronic neck pain. While many patients experience relief, it’s not guaranteed.

Risks and Considerations of Cervical Medial Branch RFA

While cervical medial branch RFA is generally considered safe, patients may experience certain side effects following the procedure. Commonly reported side effects include temporary discomfort, neck soreness, muscle spasms, or swelling at the needle insertion site. These are typically mild and resolve within a few days.

Tips for managing the usual side effects of the procedure include:

  • Discomfort or soreness: Over-the-counter pain relievers or ice packs can alleviate pain at the injection site.
  • Swelling: Keeping the area elevated and using cool compresses can reduce swelling.
  • Muscle spasms: Gentle stretches, heat therapy, or muscle relaxants prescribed by your healthcare provider can assist in managing spasms.

More serious complications, although rare, can include bleeding, infection, or temporary nerve damage. To ensure the best outcome and minimize risks, always follow the aftercare instructions provided by the pain clinic’s healthcare team. Familiarizing oneself with potential side effects and their management enhances preparedness and contributes to a smoother recovery.

Understanding Limitations and Repeat Treatments

While cervical RFA is a notable advancement in pain management, it’s essential to understand its limitations and considerations regarding repeat treatments. The effects of RFA are not permanent, as the targeted nerves can regenerate over time, potentially leading to the return of pain. When pain recurs, repeat RFA procedures may be recommended.

Medical guidelines and individual patient circumstances must be considered when considering repeat treatments. Generally:

  • Ablation on more than two spinal areas at a time is not recommended to avoid over-treating and potentially affecting sensation and motor function.
  • Doctors may suggest waiting between procedures, often a minimum of 6 months, to allow for recovery and accurate assessment of pain relief.
  • Some patients have undergone the procedure up to seven times, indicating that multiple RFAs can be performed safely under careful medical supervision.
  • However, the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine advises against repeating RFA more than twice a year.

Ultimately, decisions regarding repeat RFA treatments should be made collaboratively between the patient and the pain doctor, focusing on safety, efficacy, and overall well-being.


What is radiofrequency ablation?

Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive procedure where heat generated from radio waves is used to target and disrupt specific nerve tissues. The heat lesions the nerves and interferes with their ability to transmit pain signals, providing relief for chronic pain conditions. It’s commonly used for neck, back, and arthritic joint pain.

What is a cervical RFA?

A cervical RFA, or cervical radiofrequency ablation, is a procedure targeting medial branch nerves in the neck (cervical) area that sends pain signals to the brain. Radiofrequency energy heats and ablates the nerve fibers to prevent pain transmission and relieve chronic neck pain.

Is cervical RFA considered surgery?

Cervical RFA is not considered surgery. It is a minimally invasive procedure, which means it involves the least amount of bodily disruption compared to traditional surgery. It typically requires no extensive incisions or a lengthy recovery period.

How long can I expect relief?

The duration of pain relief from cervical RFA varies, but many patients experience benefits lasting from 6 months to a year. In some cases, relief can extend for a few years. It’s important to discuss individual expectations with a healthcare provider.

Are there any long-term risks associated with cervical RFA?

Long-term risks associated with cervical RFA are rare. Most complications, like nerve damage, are typically temporary. However, as with any medical procedure, there’s a chance of lasting effects, which should be discussed with your doctor.

How is cervical RFA different from other neck pain treatments?

Cervical RFA differs from other neck pain treatments by specifically targeting the nerves transmitting pain signals for longer-lasting relief, usually without the need for medication or surgery. In contrast, physical therapy, medications, or injections typically manage symptoms temporarily and may require ongoing use. Some medications may provide long-term pain relief.

While RFA can reduce or even eliminate the need for pain medication for some, it may not be suitable for everyone, and there still may be a need for additional therapies like physical therapy for long-term management.

When should you contact your doctor post-RFA?

Contact your doctor post-RFA if you experience severe pain, signs of infection (fever, redness), loss of function, or any symptom that feels unusual or significantly worsens. Early intervention is key for a safe recovery.


A study evaluating cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation for treating pain caused by repetitive stress concludes that it can be effective for patients who achieve significant symptom relief from dual medial branch blocks (MBBs). The results support using cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation (CMBRFA) for patients who experience a high degree of symptom improvement from preliminary medial branch blocks.

Patients who achieve at least 80% symptom reduction from dual medial branch blocks can consider cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation as a viable treatment option for neck pain, with the expectation of a positive outcome in over half of the cases. However, cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablation may not work for everyone, even with a positive response to medial branch blocks.

Novus Spine & Pain Center

Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and treats patients with chronic pain with numerous therapies, including cervical medial branch radiofrequency ablations. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle while minimizing the need for opiates.

For your convenience, you may schedule an appointment online, request a call back, or call our office at 863-583-4445.


Radiofrequency Ablation (Cedars Sinai)
What is Cervical Radiofrequency Ablation? (The Pain Center)
The Effectiveness of Cervical Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Facet Joint Syndrome in Patients Selected by a Practical Medial Branch Block Paradigm (PubMed)
Cervical Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) (Pain & Rehabilitation Specialists)
Radiofrequency Ablation for Pain Management (Cleveland Clinic)
Cervical Radiofrequency Ablation Explained (Healthline)
Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation (Cahaba Pain and Spine Care)
Radiofrequency Ablation for Back and Neck Pain (Hospital for Special Surgery)
The Effectiveness of Cervical Medial Branch Radiofrequency Ablation for Chronic Facet Joint Syndrome in Patients Selected by a Practical Medial Branch Block Paradigm (Oxford Academic)