Disc denervation (DD), which may also be called radiofrequency ablation, is a pain management procedure for treating chronic discogenic pain such as chronic back pain and neck pain. A minimally invasive procedure, disc denervation uses focused electrical energy to heat and destroy the nerve causing pain, blocking the nerve from sending pain signals to the brain.
Disc Denervation is a pain management treatment for back pain, one of the most commonly occurring health problems in the United States. If you have chronic, unresponsive neck or back pain, you may be a good candidate for disc denervation.
In many back and neck pain cases, the symptoms can be traced to the facet joints of the spine. Facet joints are the connections between the bones of the spine that allow the spine to bend and twist. These joints have nerves running through and around them going from the spinal cord to the arms, legs, and other parts of the body. The nerves provide sensation and movement to the rest of the body.
An injury or disease within the spinal structure that compresses a nerve can result in extreme pain. The pain may be felt in one spot or radiate from the spine into other areas of the body. In addition to the back, the pain might be felt in a leg, across the shoulders, or in an arm.
Disc denervation utilizes radiofrequency ablation (RFA), a procedure that uses a radio wave to produce a small electrical current. The current heats a small area of nerve tissue to destroy the nerve and block pain signals from reaching the brain. This process may also be called “nerve burning.”
An advantage of disc denervation is that the treatment is controlled, minimizing the risk of damaging adjacent nerves and tissue. Disc denervation can be more effective in providing long term pain relief than nerve blocks or other types of injections.
The goal is to reduce chronic pain that hasn’t improved with medications or physical therapy or when surgery isn’t an option. Also, if the pain recurs, the minimally invasive disc denervation treatment can be repeated.
Conditions Treated with Disc Denervation
Disc denervation can help patients who have disabling chronic pain, especially when conservative treatments have failed. It’s most useful in cases of back pain and neck pain, where the pain has been localized to the small facet joints in the spine.
Many types of chronic pain respond well to disc denervation, including pain caused by:
Disc denervation is performed on an outpatient basis in about an hour. The treatment has several advantages when it comes to treating back and neck pain.
It is a minimally invasive procedure that can provide significant relief.
No hospitalization is necessary.
The procedure is performed with local anesthesia and sedation.
Typically, there is little post-procedure discomfort.
The patient can resume normal activities quickly.
The pain doctor first administers a local anesthetic to numb the skin and the underlying tissue. With fluoroscopic guidance (an imaging technique using x-rays to obtain real-time moving images of internal structures), a radiofrequency needle is positioned next to the nerve. The needle is then energized with a mild electrical current to heat and destroy the pain-causing nerve. Because this is a localized treatment, there is minimal effect on the surrounding structures.
Who Can Benefit from Disc Denervation?
One follow-up study found 80% of patients were satisfied with the results of the procedure. However, the amount of pain relief following the procedure varies from person to person. It can take three or more weeks for the full effects of disc denervation to be realized in some cases. Some patients may experience modest, short-term pain relief; some may feel better for six months or longer. Sometimes, the treatment does not have any significant improvement in pain or function.
With time, nerves regenerate (regrow). Fortunately, the regeneration process is slow. As the nerves grow back, the pain may return, and the procedure may need to be repeated. In many cases, disc denervation can help delay or even avoid complex surgery.
Pain can make it hard to be active. Oftentimes after the disc denervation procedure, it is easier to be more active. A person who has suffered a great deal of pain may have weaker muscles due to decreased activity. So, it is important during recovery to rebuild strength and fitness gradually to avoid additional injuries.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and treats patients with chronic pain with numerous therapies, including disc denervation. 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.