facet thermal ablation

How to Prepare for Facet Thermal Ablation

Back pain is an unfortunately common occurrence with an estimated 80% of the world population suffering from back pain at some point in their life. When that pain becomes chronic or when it is nerve pain, everyday activities can become excruciating.

Spinal and nerve pain caused by arthritis and/or joint degeneration can:

  • Limit mobility
  • Cause chronic pain
  • Make simple tasks impossible

Fortunately, there is a procedure called facet thermal ablation that can potentially alleviate this pain caused by issues in the facet joints of your spine.

Keep reading to learn about facet thermal ablation and how it can potentially help you.

What is Facet Thermal Ablation?

Facet thermal ablation is a minimally invasive procedure performed to alleviate pain in patients suffering from issues in the facet joints.

The facet joints in your spine refer to the joints in between the vertebrae the make your spine flexible. Cartilage is also found in these joints between the vertebrae to cushion the joints and the bones in your back.

When the cartilage wears down or when you’re suffering from disorders like arthritis, the way your facet joints line up and the way the bones touch changes. This can cause grinding, inflammation, tearing, and a loss of mobility.

These joints have a high concentration of sensitive nerves, making any damage or negative effects very painful. A facet thermal ablation is a procedure that can alleviate the pain and immobility caused by affected facet joints.

How Does Facet Thermal Ablation Work?

Unlike intense open surgical procedures that require anesthesia, this procedure is minimally invasive and requires no anesthesia. Instead, your back will be numbed and you’ll be given medication to help you relax.

You’ll be kept on conscious sedation so the doctor can ask you questions during the procedure. This might seem scary, but you’ll be completely relaxed and you probably won’t remember the procedure.

Next, the doctor will insert a needle into your back. The doctor will use something called a fluoroscope to guide the need into your back and find the areas causing pain and immobility.

Once in position, the doctor will insert a charged electrode into the tube. Using jolts of weak electricity via the electrode will essentially “numb” the nerves of the damaged facet joint.

This will prevent the nerves from sending pain signals to your brain, which will reduce the pain you feel in your back.

This is repeated for each joint that is in pain. The entire procedure only takes around 40 minutes and will produce little to no scarring.

What Conditions Can Be Helped with This Procedure?

You could be experiencing facet joint pain for a number of different reasons. A few of the most common conditions that can be helped with a facet thermal ablation procedure are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Facet Joint Syndrome
  • Joint Degeneration
  • Facet Hypertrophy
  • Facet Disease

Since each of these conditions affect the facet joints and result in joint and nerve pain, this procedure is commonly used as a treatment.

What Symptoms Will This Procedure Relieve?

Facet thermal ablation essentially numbs the nerves in the facet joints that are causing pain and immobility. This will help a number of your symptoms.

Pain. Because the nerves in the affected joints will be numbed by this procedure, you won’t feel the persistent or chronic pain that you were experiencing because of the joint degeneration.

Mobility. Patients find that this type of procedure can help their mobility in their neck and back.

Inflammation. Joint inflammation is a common symptom of arthritis and facet joint diseases. This procedure can reduce the inflammation in the joint and help reduce pain caused by that inflammation.

How to Prepare for Facet Thermal Ablation

Here’s what to expect:

Getting Approved

In order to be approved as a candidate for this procedure, you’ll need to make an appointment with an appropriate physician. They will be able to talk with you about your condition, examine you, and determine whether this procedure will benefit you.

Some physicians may recommend getting an X-ray or an MRI to examine your spine. You also likely won’t be approved for this procedure if you haven’t tried other treatments such as physical therapy or medication.

The Procedure

Once you are approved to get this procedure, you’ll be able to schedule an appointment. This is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure, which means it doesn’t require as much prep as a more intense and more invasive procedure.

The procedure itself takes around 30 minutes with an added 1-2 hours for observation and preparation pre- and post-procedure. Be sure to schedule this on a day when you don’t have work or school, as you will likely be out of commission for that day.


You should also arrange for a friend or family member to accompany you. Because of the sedation and the pain you might feel after the procedure, you’ll need them to drive you home.

Be sure to plan some low-key days in the 2 or 3 days following the procedure. You shouldn’t be doing any exercise or strenuous activity as you heal.

It can’t hurt to prepare some “sick day” supplies for the days following the procedures, like some comfort food or your favorite movies!

Wrapping Up

A facet thermal ablation can be a lifesaver for those suffering from chronic back pain. That might seem dramatic, but relief from chronic pain and immobility can give someone the freedom they need to live a normal life.

At Executive Spine Surgery, Dr. Carl Spivak will provide you with high-quality care that will make you feel safe and taken care of. If you have any questions or want to schedule an appointment to learn more about this procedure, contact us.

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