Basic Information

What is radiofrequency ablation?

            Radiofrequency ablation is the use of radio waves to heat the fluid around certain structures.  When it is used for spinal pain, it effectively destroys the tiny nerves transmitting pain signals to your brain from your facet joints (also called “zygaphopyseal joints,” see diagram below).  Pain from facet joints is common, particularly as the general wear-and-tear on these joints over time causes degeneration and arthritis.  Most people with facet joint pain have axial pain (along the spine), usually in the lower lumbar region.  Your pain may be worse with lumbar extension, twisting backwards, and prolonged standing. 

What nerves are targeted?

            Radiofrequency ablation is used to target pain from the facet joints, which are the articulating joints between the vertebrae of your spine.  The actual nerves being destroyed are called “medial branch nerves,” and each facet joint receives its innervation from the medial branch at (ascending branch) and one level above it (descending branch).

To View Anatomy in an Interactive Computer Module courtesy of the Bay Area Pain Associates, Please visit this site:



Interventional Spine Procedures: Radiofrequency Ablation


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