When you have headaches or pain related to the changes in your spine, cervical radiofrequency ablation is an alternative.

The procedure causes pain signals to be transmitted to your brain. A healthcare professional can help you evaluate the risks and benefits of this procedure.

If you read this, you will find out if the procedure can help you find relief.

Cervical radiofrequency ablations treat chronic neck pain and headaches due to changes in the cervical spine, according to 2021 research. The cervical spine is the topmost part of the spine and contains the first seven vertebrae. These vertebrae support your head and neck.

Changes to the typical makeup of the structures in and around the vertebrae can cause a specific headache type called a cervicogenic headache. An estimated 4.1 percent of the population experiences this headache type, with the average age of onset around 43.

Cervicogenic headaches can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose. According to 2018 research, major symptoms include:

  • “It’s usually on one side of the head.”
  • The range of motion in the neck is poor.
  • Head pain gets worse with neck movement.
  • When a doctor presses the side of the neck that is causing the head pain, it becomes worse.
  • It can be pain in the neck, shoulder, or arm.
  • pain that doesn’t respond to traditional headache medications, like ergotamines, triptans, or indomethacin

A doctor can perform a nerve block called a cervical block. A cervicogenic headaches is likely to happen if the headaches improve with this block.

A cervical radiofrequency ablation procedure isn’t the first line of treatment for a cervicogenic headache. Instead, doctors often recommend taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If these are ineffective, a doctor may prescribe medications, such as tizanidine, baclofen, or tricyclic antidepressants.

Physical therapy or anesthetic nerve blocks may also help, according to the 2018 research mentioned earlier. If these treatments aren’t effective, a doctor may recommend radiofrequency ablation.

Cervical radiofrequency ablation involves using heat to burn the nerve tissue so the nerves cannot transmit pain signals to the brain. The basic steps of the procedure include:

  1. A doctor will inject a local anesthetic.
  2. A doctor will insert a thin needle near a facet joint, which is a bone that connects the vertebrae. They usually do this while being guided by a live X-ray, but some doctors may use computed tomography (CT) or ultrasound guidance.
  3. A doctor will use a small amount of electric current to help the nerve. This will cause your muscles to twitch and cause some pain.
  4. A doctor will use a needle to deliver energy.
  5. A doctor may perform the procedure at another level.

A medical procedure called a cervical radiofrequency ablation. You will be home the same day you have the procedure.

Are you awake during an ablation?

According to the New York School of Regional Anesthesia, doctors can perform cervical radiofrequency ablations using either local anesthetic (numbing medication) or sedation, which is when you receive medications to relax you during a procedure.

“The approach used will be dependent on your and your doctor’s preferences.”

Before you go for a cervical ablation, you should review your medical history and take your medication. If you take blood thinners, your doctor should discuss with you if you can stop taking them before the procedure.

“You don’t need to do anything special to prepare for a cervical procedure. Instructions for the day of your procedure should be given by your doctor.”

Cervical radiofrequency ablation costs vary based on your location, the doctor performing the procedure, and how many levels the doctor is injecting. One pain clinic reported the cost at $3,195 for a one-level cervical radiofrequency ablation with $1,457 for an additional level.

Is nerve ablation covered by insurance?

Medicare covers cervical radiofrequency ablation, provided a person meets their criteria. If Medicare covers a procedure, other insurance companies typically will as well.

You should check with your insurance company before you go ahead with the procedure.

Cervical radiofrequency ablation does have potential risks, but most are considered mild to moderate, according to 2021 research.

It is possible that a doctor could accidentally hit a blood vessel with a needle and cause bleeding. Guidance about image can help reduce the risks.

There are a number of potential side effects of the procedure.

  • dizziness
  • It is either pain or discomfort.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Skin numbness.

These symptoms are usually short term and last a few days or weeks.

Increased risks make some people not want to have a radiofrequency ablation. Anticoagulation therapy can cause bleeding.

“The radiofrequency could cause a shock or interfere with cardiac pacing, so those with implanted cardiac devices should not have the procedure done without a doctor’s consultation.”

Even if there are no reported side effects in larger studies, doctors still consider them. These possible effects include:

  • There is a hematoma.
  • It is an infectious disease
  • Nerve damage.
  • The injury to the spine is called a spinal cord injury.

A doctor should use an instrument to check the body. Insurance companies may not reimburse for the procedure if it is not used with the use of the imager.

Another rare but potential complication is dropped head syndrome. This condition causes severe muscle weakness that makes raising the head more difficult. Only two case reports have explained this potential effect.

The procedure of cervical radiofrequency ablation is not permanent. The nerves will regenerate and the pain will sometimes return. The likelihood of this happening varies from person to person.

The 2021 research from earlier found that the average time of radiofrequency ablation effectiveness was 42 months. However, other reports have shorter times for pain recurrence, anywhere from 6 to 14 months.

Cervical radiofrequency ablation can cause initial nerve irritation for several days after your procedure. Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe steroids to help minimize this irritation.

“You should expect your pain to improve within 3 to 6 weeks. If the pain doesn’t improve, the procedure may not be effective.”

If you experience weakness in your neck or shoulders that lasts longer than a few days, you should contact your doctor.

Doctors may recommend multiple visits to get relief. If you need to have radiofrequency ablation at more than two levels of the spine, you should visit multiple times.

“Doctors will only perform the procedure on two areas at a time. It helps to ensure they don’t blow too many nerves, which could affect your sensation and motor function.”

If you’ve had cervical radiofrequency ablation and experienced pain relief, the chances are higher that a repeat procedure will help relieve your pain.

There is no research that says a maximum limit for repeating the procedure. Some studies have reported patients who have had at least seven procedures.

The American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine and the American Academy of Pain Medicine do not recommend repeating the procedure more than once a year.

What is the next step if radiofrequency ablation doesn’t work?

“A doctor may recommend treatments if a cervical radiofrequency ablation doesn’t work.”

  • medication
  • Physical therapy.
  • surgery

Each option should be reviewed by a doctor.

Individuals with neck pain can find relief from cervical radiofrequency ablation. If you initially experienced pain relief, insurance may cover repeated procedures.

Your doctor can help you determine if this procedure is right for you.