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Risk of Burning Nerves in the Lower Back

By August 26, 2022No Comments

Whenever a part of your body is impacted in any way, like being hit, pinched or punctured, it is your nerves that are sending signals to your brain that tell you that you are in pain. Nerves can get pinched or damaged anywhere in the body, which can be extremely painful and lead to permanent damages. When there is no medication for such a problem and it is beyond the point of physical therapy (if these nerves are damaged), the one remaining solution is a procedure that prevents these nerves from causing any further pain.

That procedure is not a rebuilding or transplant of these nerves, but a complete ‘burning’, or deactivation of them to eliminate chronic pain. Lower back pain in particular is among the most common types of pain that people experience when they get older, ranging from mild to feeling like you are unable to sit. 

Instances like this is when it is most appropriate to have the procedure done, but are the potential side effects worth the risk? As a minimally invasive but very effective relief to chronic pain, the risks will outweigh the outcome.

Why Burn Your Nerves?

Excessive pain signals sent to your brain can be torturous and detremental to leading a normal, healthy lifestyle. As essentially a cure for your chronic pain, the process is exponentially more effective than any ‘ice and heat’ treatment, does not have severe side effects and will deactivate those dreaded pinched nerves.

These are made of special tissues and nerve fibers that act as a transit system, carrying the registration of the impact point to your brain as a pain signal. This obviously works but is not completely devoid of complications: Nerve damage, pinched nerves, muscle tensions, compressions or just over-sensitivity in that area can cause great discomfort that either stays or worsens over time if left untreated.

When that occurs, this is where ablation (nerve burning) comes into play: The nerves that would speak to your brain now no longer can because the procedure put those nerves under a heating current strong enough to cancel transmission to your brain. In other words, ablation is the blockage of nerve signals reaching their destination, leaving you with very little to no pain.

Is it Safe?

In light of a surgery or other vulnerable treatments, patients with arthritic or chronic pain often turn to the procedure for reasons beyond its effectiveness. The ease of operation, quick procedure times (usually one hour or less), noninvasive and of course, its safety. Burning nerves or radiofrequency ablation, is actually fast and painless enough to not have the patient be put under and does not apply any of the procedural heat to virtually any other area except for those few targeted nerves. 

Because of this, and the fact that no incisions or risk of surgical complications are involved at all, the procedure is arguably one the safest treatments for handling chronic pain. The operation is also safe enough to where it can be repeated if necessary, if at least 3 weeks have passed, without burning off or damaging any nerves.

Burning Nerves in the Lower Back

Risk of Burning Nerves in the Lower BackOn the surface, the procedure may sound like it will be painful or make things more uncomfortable, but burning your nerves is actually so painless and noninvasive that the procedure does not even require traditional anesthesia (some mild sedation may be required but not enough to put you under. 

To prevent the shooting pain in your lower back that you may experience (or have flare ups) upon stretching or sitting, you could prevent those nerves from sending pain signals throughout the body in just under the time it would take a medication to work.

Radiofrequency Ablation

The actual burning of nerves in your lower back is a process called radiofrequency ablation. As much as it is known to treat chronic pain, ablation (also known as rhizotomy or fulguration) is not an unusual procedure for arthritis as well. When the RFA is performed, the specialist produces a heat current and applies it to the area of nerves or tissue, preventing their primary function.

Ablation is not considered a surgery and can be completed with simply the increased heat and a small needle to apply it directly and only to your problematic nerves. Even in close proximity, not a single healthy nerve gets mixed in or damaged when you are in the specialists’ care. 

When is it Necessary?

Ablation is absolutely necessary when all other forms of relieving back or chronic pain have failed. While it is not a last ditch effort to heal your pain, there are simply many options to fix the problem and there is no reason to completely rule them out before trying them. It is also likely that a surgery might still be necessary to correct something near the area anyway, so ablation would be a fantastic option if you cannot afford to wait during this time and your lower back pain has not been going away.

What are the Side Effects?

Thankfully, the most well-known side effects are not only minimal but also very short term in that the typical side effects after the procedure do not last more than one month. It is not unusual to temporarily see a similar pain in the lower back for the first few weeks as the body is still adjusting to the ablation, but this should calm down and noticeably reduce pain after about two weeks. Beyond that, you might feel a little bit of soreness around the injection site but that should be fixed after about a week, so long as ice is being applied daily.

Other noteworthy or side effects to radio ablation are virtually nonexistent, the same goes for potential complications while in the operating room.

Odds of Radiation Sickness

While an RFA does use radio frequencies internally, the procedure has not been shown to have caused radiation sickness. A few rare cases of nausea followed by chills or a mild fever are common side effects under the umbrella of postablaitions, but none of it is cancerous or point to any other medical condition at all.

How Long is the Recovery?

Ablation has one of the shortest recovery times of any non-invasive procedure of its kind. The first three days of your recovery are when doctors recommend not to physically exert yourself or operate heavy machinery, just in case you feel uneasy at first. Afterwards, the distinctive drop in chronic pain typically occurs within two to three weeks following the procedure.

Routine checkups are always good to help keep your health in order, and checking up on the injection site after one year (if there have been no problems) is highly recommended since a small number of procedures are not permanent.

How the Alternatives Compare

In essence, ablation (RFA) has an amazing success rate and arguably does more for your back and arthritic pain compared to these surgical alternatives, including the surgery itself. To explain, the success of ablation can range anywhere from 70%-90% depending on the situation, but even then, the procedure can be repeated if the results were not as expected.

There is no medication that will fix nerve damage or prevent them from sending pain signals to your brain, nor will any amount of physical therapy do the same thing. The solution is a procedure that corrects the source of the pain and not just the pain itself.

Conclusion

If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from lower back pain and are wary of surgery or medications, you could easily find a worthwhile solution in radiofrequency ablation. Even if you are due for a back or spinal surgery, an RFA is an extremely safe procedure to stop the process of making pain signals to make your waiting time less painful and more bearable.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Regenerative Interventional Spine Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni

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