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Radiofrequency Ablation vs. Spinal Cord Stimulation: Which Is Right for Me?

Radiofrequency Ablation vs. Spinal Cord Stimulation: Which Is Right for Me?

It’s never been easy treating chronic pain because it occurs for numerous reasons and varies significantly from person to person. Fortunately, advancements in medicine have brought new and innovative solutions to complex issues like nerve pain.

Dr. Vladimir Fiks offers the latest treatment options in orthopedic medicine at Advanced Pain Management Center in Portland, Oregon. Two highly effective options for nerve pain include radiofrequency ablation and spinal cord stimulation

If you have nerve pain, here’s how these two treatments could help and which could be right for you.

How pain works

Before taking a closer look at treatment options, it’s useful to have a general sense of how pain works. 

Whenever you feel a sensation, whether it’s hot, cold, soft, or hard, it’s due to a complex communication system working behind the scenes. Sensory nerves in one part of your body send a message to your brain. These pulses include information about what’s going on in your environment.

In response, your brain decides what you should feel and how your motor nerves should react. For example, if you step on a rock, your sensory nerves produce specific chemical messengers that tell your brain it is something hard rather than something soft.

The sensory nervous system also contains special pain receptors called nociceptors. These special nerve endings are all over the body, including muscles, joints, bones, internal organs, and the skin. When injured, they also fire off messages to your brain so it knows something happened.

All of these messages reach the brain along a complex, tree-like network almost instantaneously, where it tries to determine how you should respond, whether jumping up and down while shrieking in pain or simply walking it off.

Radiofrequency ablation and spinal cord stimulation work to ease pain by targeting this nerve activity. However, they work in very different ways.

Radiofrequency ablation basics

Radiofrequency ablation — also known as RFA or radiofrequency neurotomy — works by turning off the nerve sending the pain signal. 

During this procedure, Dr. Fiks uses a targeted approach to identify the problematic nerve and then exposes it to heat delivered through a tiny needle. In response, the nerve forms a heat lesion, so it no longer sends pain signals to the brain.

Dr. Fiks often recommends RFA for pain conditions that include:

RFA can offer significant pain relief for a few months to several years. However, the targeted nerve can also regenerate over time. That means that your pain may or may not return.

Spinal cord stimulation 101

Unlike RFA, spinal cord stimulation doesn’t stop the pain signals going to your brain. Instead, it uses neuromodulation to replace the signals your brain receives with something more pleasant.

The beauty of spinal cord stimulation (SCS) lies in a special implantable device. It contains electrodes, a pulse generator (battery), and a remote control. This technology delivers mild electrical pulses that interfere with the signals sent to your brain.

When you undergo SCS treatment, Dr. Fiks places the thin electrodes in the epidural space near the problem nerve. These wires attach to the pulse generator, which you control with the remote control.

Once turned on, you have full control over the energy delivered to the nerves. You can also turn it off entirely when you don’t need it. 

Dr. Fiks often suggests SCS for conditions that include:

And the best part? You go through a trial period before implantation to ensure this pain management approach provides relief. SCS is also completely reversible if you no longer want this treatment.

These are just two highly effective treatments Dr. Fiks can offer. If you have a pain condition, he can help find the best solution for you.

You don’t have to live in pain. Contact Advanced Pain Management Center by phone or online to schedule a consultation with Dr. Fiks in Portland, Oregon, today.

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