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How long to know whether RFA will help?

Hello. Apologies if this has been covered extensively elsewhere but this is my first post on here.

I had my first radiofrequency ablation (RFA) procedure about two weeks ago on the left side of my lower back, following two medial nerve branch blocks in the same area that gave substantial relief for several days. However, I have received no pain relief whatsoever yet from the RFA. My pain is just as bad as it was before the procedure. My pain management doctor's nurse said this week it can take up to a month (!) to determine whether the RFA will help because the nerves sometimes take a while to "fully die." Does this square with the experiences of other folks who have had RFAs?

I turn 40 in two months and have had back pain on and off since a 1989 injury. I had a spinal fusion/nerve decompression surgery in 1993 that got rid of most of the pain until 2007, when I had another injury that kept me in severe pain for two years until I received an SI joint-facet injection that (miraculously in retrospect) provided substantial pain relief.

I guess the injection wore off last August and after multiple facet injections and attempts at physical therapy my pain is still as bad as it was last August; without heavy pain meds it's at an 8 or a 9. The only thing that helps is Vidodin 7.5 every four hours but I can't take the full dose and drive or concentrate at work. My choice is to take a lower dose and still be in substantial pain or take the full dose and call in sick. I've already missed a lot of work and my life is absolutely miserable. I'm sure there are folks in worse straits so I'm not seeking sympathy but this really sucks. Thanks in advance for any responses.


  • Does this square with the experiences of other folks who have had RFAs?
    Yep, that squares up pretty close from my experience. Success from the injections is a very good indicator that the RFA will work out very well. I get an RFA every ~9 months on the lumbar and SI joints. That's 4 different procedures, right and left side SI and lumbar levels. My doc won't do SI and lumbar at the same time, and it's always one side (left or right) followed in 2 weeks by the other side. It usually takes 2 to 4 weeks for me to achieve full relief, and it's almost always been 100%. So, yes, give it some time. Just about the time I start wondering "when is this going to kick in?!", it kicks in. I'll be surprised if you're not back here in a week saying "oh wow! it worked!".

    The beauty of an RFA is that it is 100% repeatable, and you get very familiar with it. You know when it's time to go back in, and you know afterwards just about when it's starting to really kick in. These are peripheral sensory nerves, and they do grow back. Some people get only a few months of relief, some get years or even a lifetime of relief. I get right about 9 months.

    Just keep in mind that this is just one of the tools in your shed. You'll need other tools to combat the pain. Medication, exercise, physical therapy, injections, etc. Nothing is really 100%, in my experience, it's a combination adding up to as near 100% relief as you can get. Good luck!
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