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Radiofrequency (RF) Ablation & Treatment of Arthritis of the Spine

Arthritis of the spine (“spinal”) affects the joints along the spine that link one vertebra to another. Although arthritis may occur in any part of the spine, the lumbar (or lower) portion is most commonly affected. This is because it is this area of the back that takes on the majority of body weight. Pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joints of the spine are indicative of spinal arthritis. These symptoms may also occur where ligaments and tendons attach to the spinal vertebrae. 

While there are over 100 different forms of arthritis, the most common causes of arthritis of the spine are wear and tear, degeneration of the discs/spine, and autoimmune disorders. 

Osteoarthritis is the most common type. It is caused by the wear and tear of the joints as cartilage deteriorates. Age, back injuries and overuse causes this deterioration. Although osteoarthritis is considered a non-inflammatory form of arthritis, it does cause inflammation at the affected sites.
Inflammatory arthritis, on the other hand, occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the cartilage. Examples of this are conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. Joint pain and stiffness develop and progresses anywhere from the neck to the lower back.  

Symptoms of spinal arthritis include pain, stiffness, neck pain that spreads to the shoulders and arms, back pain that spreads to the buttocks and legs, and limited mobility and range of motion.

One treatment option for patients suffering from Spinal Arthritis includes Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA). RFA uses radiofrequency waves to heat nerve tissue and block the transmission of pain at the source. It does this by ablating (burning) the precise nerve that is causing the pain. RFA kills nerve tissue to provide relief from pain that hasn’t been responsive to other treatments. 

To begin, a patient is administered IV drugs to relax them. The physician will then use an X-ray to guide the needle to the exact placement at the targeted nerve. The small electrode is then placed inside the needle. Following this, a tiny radiofrequency current is directed to the medial or lateral branch of the nerve for 60 to 90 seconds creating a heat lesion on the nerve.

The entire procedure lasts only 15 to 30 minutes and the pain relief can last for 6 to 12 months or more. RFA is minimally invasive, helping patients to avoid surgery in some cases – and allowing for quick recovery and immediate pain relief. 

The procedure may be used in conjunction with other treatments. Specifically, a physical therapy or fitness regime can help strengthen the muscles of the back and help to stabilize the spine. Core-building exercises, in particular, help strengthen the muscles in the abdomen and back which takes the pressure off the spine – thereby reducing arthritis pain. 
Light activities for your spine

The Floor March
Lie on your back on the floor, with knees bent. Keep arms at your sides. Tighten the stomach muscles and slowly raise the left leg 3 to 4 inches up from the floor. Hold it for a few seconds, then slowly lower it to the floor. Repeat on the right leg. Keep alternating legs for 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Cat and Cow
Kneel on all fours with hands beneath shoulders and knees directly beneath the hips. Gently arch the spine and hold. Then tighten the core muscles and round the back – like a cat. Move slowly between these movements and hold in each position for 10 seconds. 

Bridge
Lie on your back on the floor, with knees bent. Keep arms at your sides. Clench the glute muscles and slowly raise up, away from the floor. The body should be straight from the knees to the shoulders. Hold the position for 8 to 10 seconds, before very slowly lowering back to the starting position. Two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Knees-to-Chest Stretch
Lie on your back on the floor. Pull one knee gently towards the chest and hold it there for 15 seconds. Return the foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg. Do this 1 to 15 times on each leg. Then, if possible, both knees to the chest and hold, if there is no pain.

Gentle Spinal Twist
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent. Keep the shoulders firm on the floor. Slowly, roll both bent knees to one side and hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do 10 to 15 of these once or twice per day.

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