Potential Complications of Radiofrequency Neurotomy

As with all medical procedures, there are certain risks and potential complications associated with a radiofrequency neurotomy.

Complications are rare with this procedure, but can occur, and include:

  • Pain or discomfort around the area treated
  • Numbness of skin covering the area treated
  • Worsened pain due to muscle spasm in the area treated
  • Permanent nerve pain
  • Allergies or reactions to medications used
  • Infection.

Although not a complication, the biggest side effect of the procedure is the transient sunburn type pain. For most patients this pain is not severe, however, in 3 - 5% of patients the pain is quite troublesome and will last for several weeks. It is less common in the mid and low back than in the neck, and is most common at higher levels of the neck. This side effect is believed to be from increased irritation of a nerve that was only partially damaged, not completely destroyed. This effect can be treated with topical medication or oral medications.

Patients are frequently concerned that, without the ability to feel sensation through the treated nerves, they may cause an injury to either the joints or the back. There is no scientific evidence to support this concern. In fact, in the many years that neurotomies have been performed, patients have not been found to be at any increased risk of injury.

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Written by Ray M. Baker, MD