Nerve Ablation for Chronic Pain
What is nerve ablation?
The destruction (also called ablation) of nerves is a method that may be used to reduce certain kinds of chronic pain by preventing transmission of pain signals. It is a safe procedure in which a portion of nerve tissue is destroyed or removed to cause an interruption in pain signals and reduce pain in that area. Nerve ablation can be done in different ways. For example, it can be done using heat, cold, or chemicals. What the procedure is called depends on how it is done. For example, it may be called radiofrequency ablation, cryoablation, neurotomy, or rhizotomy.
Your doctor will first identify the nerve or nerves that are sending pain signals to your brain. You will have a test that uses a nerve block, which numbs specific nerves, to help your doctor find the nerves that are causing your pain.
During the procedure, you may have X-rays to pinpoint where to put the medical tool that will be used. After you receive a local anesthetic, the doctor places the medical tool under your skin through which the nerve tissue is removed or destroyed. Depending on how the ablation is done, it may cause you to feel a buzzing or tingling sensation. The damage to your nerves blocks them from sending pain signals to your brain. But the nerve often tries to grow back. If it does, the results are only temporary and usually last for around 6 to 9 months.
This procedure is done in an operating room and takes between 20 minutes to 1 hour or longer depending on how many, and which, nerves are being blocked. If the nerve that is blocked is not the nerve that is causing the pain, your pain will not be reduced.
Nerve ablation is not effective for everyone. If you have not responded well to other treatment, such as diagnostic local anesthesia nerve blocks, nerve ablation will probably not work for you.
Current as of: February 23, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Nancy Greenwald MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation