Cervical Facet Radiofrequency Neurotomy

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Estimates have reported that as many as 80% of adults will experience an acute episode of neck and back pain over the course of their lifetime. Pain located in the neck and back can be caused by a number of factors. Most commonly this pain can originate from muscle strain, injury or trauma, herniated disk, or pinched nerve.

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Currently, there are a number of non-invasive treatments available to treat neck and back pain, and surgery is rarely warranted. Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is one minimally invasive, non-surgical treatment option available for relieving nerve pain, and is considered to be among the gold standard of treatment for pain originating in the cervical facet.

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Many report that this treatment is highly effective in reducing or eliminating their nerve pain. Further, long term follow-up studies have reported that most patients reported that the gains in terms of reduction of symptoms were maintained for 15 months. Moreover, approximately half of the individuals included in a treatment study reported being without pain for at least two years.

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The Facet joints are found on the posterior side of the spine. Owing to their shape, most facet joints in the spine have a somewhat limited range of motion. Cervical facet joints, however, are located near the neck and are shaped somewhat differently in order to allow for a more broad range of motion. Injury or damage to these joints can present as inflammation, soreness, stiffness, or even pain that can be felt in the neck and upper back.

Within the protective spinal canal is the spinal cord, which acts as the primary information pathway to and from the brain to various parts of the body. Also located here are medial nerves, which are believed to relay information between the brain and the facet joints.


Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is effective in reducing or eliminating neck and back pain as it blocks the medial nerve from transmitting the pain signal. It is typically performed in an outpatient setting. Using only a local aesthetic and x-ray as a guide your physician will insert a very small needle-sized tube, called the cannula, to the area of the affected nerve. Then, a very tiny electrode is fed through the cannula to the nerve. To check the accuracy of the placement, the physician will run a very mild current through the electrode causing the nerve to momentarily activate pain signals. The physician is able to recognize the  proper placement of the electrode by confirming a muscle twitch in response to this mild current. The physician will then apply a numbing agent to the nerve, and then deliver the heat. This application of heat damages the medial nerve creating a lesion. Thus, this damaged area blocks the medial nerve from sending pain signals to the brain.

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Following the procedure, patients are monitored for adverse signs. Patients are encouraged to have someone drive them home and to use caution when returning to normal activities as muscle weakness and some soreness is to be expected. Damaged nerves can take up to a month to die off completely. Until that time, patients may continue to experience ongoing symptoms of muscle weakness and soreness. It may be necessary for the physician to prescribe pain medication.

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Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is primarily used to treat facet joint difficulties. Your doctor will be able to let you know whether they believe you would benefit from radiofrequency neurotomy. Typically, a patient is deemed to be a good candidate for radiofrequency neurotomy if she or he experiences a temporary relief in symptoms following localized anaesthetic blocks of the nerves which supply the cervical facet joints.

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Cervical facet radiofrequency neurotomy is a non-invasive treatment option for nerve pain that may be considered for patients who have had little success with other forms of treatment for their facet joint pain. Radiofrequency neurotomy is a non-surgical procedure and can be done on an outpatient basis. It has been shown to be most effective for individuals who have received pain relief following a temporary block of the nerve pathway to the cervical facet joints. Individuals should speak with a physician should they have any concerns.


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