Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Neurotomy

What is Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Neurotomy?

Radiofrequency neurotomy is a treatment that involves the division or destruction of one or more nerves through the use of heat to relieve neuralgia, or nerve-related pain.

Facet joints, sometimes also called synovial joints, are very small — each one is about the size of a thumbnail. They are located in pairs in the spine, with two facet joints extending from each vertebra in such a way as to be positioned somewhat between that vertebra and the vertebra directly above it. Fulfilling a very important role as motion limiters, facet joints prevent the spine from over-flexion, over-rotation or over-extension.

The cervical spine comprises seven vertebrae located in the neck, and the facet joints in this area of the body are called cervical facet joints.

Sometimes facet joints become damaged, either due to injury, disease or other condition or event, and can become very painful for the person. For those individuals who still experience significant discomfort following the use of medications and other therapies, cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy may offer a higher level of temporary pain relief.

The procedure itself uses heat in the form of radio waves. The doctor will sterilize the skin on the patient’s neck, then apply an anesthetic to numb the area where the needle will be inserted. Prior to the day of the procedure the doctor will have performed a series of tests to determine not only which nerves should be targeted by the cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy, but also exactly where the needle should be placed.

With the patient lying down on an X-ray table, an IV will be started, to deliver medication that will keep the patient calm and comfortable for the duration of the procedure. Using a type of X-ray called fluoroscopy, the physician will guide the needle into the cervical spine, where heat generated by radio waves can damage specific nerves.

Following the procedure, the damaged nerves will be unable to transmit pain signals, although this effect will be temporary. The nerves will gradually regenerate and eventually be able to transmit pain signals again; however, this does not necessarily mean that the patient’s pain will return. If the pain does return, the patient and doctor may elect to repeat the procedure.

The procedure generally lasts anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the number of nerves the doctor will be targeting. The recovery period is usually short, typically just a few hours, with the patient being discharged the same day. While a person may experience some pain at the procedure site afterward, this will usually improve within a few days.

The level of pain relief a person can expect to achieve from a cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy treatment varies from patient to patient, with some experiencing greater relief than others. The duration of the procedure’s effects may last a few months, or about a year. If the patient’s pain does not reoccur following nerve regeneration, then the effects may be enjoyed much longer.


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