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Pain relief without pain medicine

Chronic pain can interrupt your life. It can impact even the smallest duties in your day and last for weeks or months. The National Institutes of Health report that one in 10 American adults suffer from chronic pain. It’s normal to want relief and want it fast, but drugs like opioids can do more harm than good when it comes to managing chronic pain.

Radiofrequency ablation offers an alternative that may help chronic low back pain.

“Radiofrequency ablation is recommended for patients who have chronic back or neck pain that does not respond to other treatments, like certain pain medications or physical therapy,” explained Dr. Shivang Desai, an interventional pain management specialist at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. “It’s a safe procedure that can have fewer risks for a patient than opioids.”

What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure where nerve tissue is heated using an electrical current created by a radio wave.

“RFA is a precise, safe and effective way to treat certain kinds of pain,” said Dr. Desai. “There are very few associated risks and relief can last anywhere from six to 18 months, depending on the patient.”

With RFA, patients with chronic pain from arthritis or an injury can have pain successfully blocked for a period of time. Having this procedure can also sometimes reveal if there is pain coming from other areas of the body when a certain area is treated with RFA.

How it works
In an RFA procedure, a high-frequency current travels from a generator to a needle placed on the patient’s nerve. This current generates enough heat to interrupt a nerve signal and stop pain.

“In some cases, the nerves are destroyed from six to 18 months,” said Dr. Desai. “However, this varies from patient to patient and is sometimes shorter or longer.”

In an RFA procedure, the area being treated is numbed with a local anesthetic. The patient’s vitals are monitored with an EKG, blood pressure cuff and oxygen monitor. A needle is then inserted where the nerve is located and the current is sent to block the nerve’s pain signals.

Who should get it, who should not
“Patients who suffer from chronic neck or back pain or arthritis may be good candidates for this procedure,” suggested Dr. Desai. “RFA might help these patients avoid surgery, and it could provide immediate pain relief for an extended period of time.”

However, like most medical procedures, it’s not right for everyone. This type of procedure is not recommended for people who have active infections, bleeding problems or who are pregnant.

“If you suffer from chronic pain, you should ask your doctor about RFA to determine if it might be a good fit for you,” said Dr. Desai.

Dr. Shivang Desai, MD, is a fellowship trained interventional pain management specialist at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. For more information on scheduling an appointment with Dr. Desai or another Geisinger pain management specialist, please call 800-275-6401 or visit

Woman stretching her back