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What is a Radiofrequency Neurotomy?

Updated on: 11/12/2019

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When accident victims continue to experience the long-term pain that sometimes accompanies a serious auto accident or other type of injury, a radiofrequency neurotomy procedure may be an option. The symptoms that can result from cervical facet injuries – a type of injury to the neck that usually stems from whiplash or other high-impact traumas – are usually long lasting and can be extremely problematic, especially when it comes to the day-to-day activities that many people are used to.

How a Neurotomy Procedure Works

A cervical facet injury is a type of neck injury that typically occurs after a car accident or other form of high-impact trauma.

Severe whiplash and similar injuries can eventually lead to damage in the cervical facet joint. Unfortunately, people with a cervical facet injury are likely dealing with chronic pain and losses in range of motion, which can make daily life extremely uncomfortable. Because of the nagging pain, many people are unable to work or participate in regular activities which results in a lower overall quality of life.

Cervical Facet Joint

To escape from the chronic pain, a doctor may recommend that the patient undergo a radiofrequency neurotomy. This procedure is promising in terms of alleviating pain symptoms, which can be very attractive to an injury victim who is dealing with chronic pain on a daily basis.

A neurotomy is a procedure in which the physician uses specialized radiofrequency needles to create heat lesions in the nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain. These heat lesions eventually cause enough damage to the nerves that they shut down and no longer cause the brain to feel the pain.

Again, to someone feeling a great deal of pain symptoms on a daily basis this procedure is more than a promising option. However, there are some things that neck injury victims should understand about a neurotomy before agreeing to one.

Problems with Undergoing a Neurotomy Procedure

Although the goal of the procedure is to alleviate pain symptoms for injury victims, a neurotomy is not typically a long-term solution to the problem. In fact, the potential impact that a neurotomy can provide for someone dealing with chronic pain is essentially equivalent to a longer-term pain reliever.

As mentioned earlier, the end-result of a successful neurotomy is to severely damage the nerves that send pain messages to the brain. This makes it so that the injury victim no longer feels the pain because the nerve is no longer capable of transmitting signals.

However, because the human body is a self-healing unit, the nerve will eventually recover and be able to function properly again in the future. The only uncertainty is how long the nerve will take to heal and be able to transmit pain signals again. And since the actual injury that causes the pain in the first place was never treated or healed, the victim will begin feeling the pain again after the nerve recovers.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the time that it takes for the damaged nerve to heal and be able to transmit a pain signal again varies. Although many experts say the typical timeline for nerve recovery is between 6-12 months, there is really no telling how long it will take for the nerve to heal and it could take much longer.

A Neurotomy Is Not a Long-Term Solution

Although a neurotomy procedure can relieve the symptoms of chronic neck pain, it is essentially a Band-Aid for the root of the problem. The injury victim is likely feeling pain symptoms because they experienced some form of trauma that caused damage to the facet joint in the spine. Destroying the nerve through a neurotomy simply shuts off the medical nerve, rather than treating the original source of the pain which is the injured facet joint.

As we explained earlier, a person who undergoes a neurotomy will typically experience pain relief for six months to a year, but the symptoms will likely return after the nerve recovers from the procedure. Again, this could take multiple years in some cases, but it means the patient is essentially waiting for the symptoms to return again once the nerve heals.

It is best to consult with your physician on the best possible options for you to recover from serious neck injuries. Procedures like this are complex and invasive, and it is important for patients to communicate with their doctor and evaluate the best possible options to make a recovery. Those who are involved in an accident and suffer a serious neck injury should also consult with a spinal cord injury attorney to recover damages to pay for medical bills and long-term care. 

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