Spinal Nerve Cauterization: Procedure, Purpose and Possible Complications

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Spinal nerve cauterization can be done through a procedure called a radiofrequency neurotomy. When a spinal nerve is cauterized it is destroyed resulting in less pain. This procedure can be done to several different nerves in the lower back and neck. In most cases, the nerves that are cauterized are the small nerve branches of the facet joints located in the back of the spine.

Purpose of This Procedure

The purpose of this procedure is to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, the patient’s pain. However, before a patient can undergo this procedure there must be proof that the branch nerves and joints are causing significant pain. After the nerve is cauterized, the patient should notice a significant decrease in pain lasting from nine to fourteen months and sometimes longer for up to two years. However, many patient’s pain will return as the treated nerve degenerates.

Procedure Description

Before a spinal nerve cauterization procedure patients will receive all necessary medicine to relax them. Once they are relaxed they will lie on their stomach on a special x-ray table and the area that is being cauterized will be thoroughly cleaned. Next, the doctor performing the procedure will numb the area with a numbing medication, such as Lidocaine, by injecting it into the skin and soft tissues. Then the doctor will use an imaging device called a fluoroscope to carefully insert the radiofrequency needle along the lateral branch or medical branch nerves. Once the needle is in place a small electrical current will be sent through the needle. The nerves being cauterized will then be numbed to make the procedure as painless as possible for the patient. This procedure will then be repeated on one to five other nerves. In general, this procedure will take thirty to ninety minutes to complete from start to finish.

Possible Complications

This procedure is a very minimally invasive surgical procedure, however some complications may result. Though complications may result they are quite rare. These complications may include pain around the injection site, infection, adverse reactions or allergies to any medications used, skin numbness at the injection site, permanent nerve pain and worsened pain caused by a muscle spasm occurring at the injection site.


Approximately thirty to fifty percent of patients notice significant pain relief. About fifty percent of patients may get a little relief for a shorter time period. Then there are some patients who experience no pain relief after this procedure.


Baker, R. MD. (2004). Radiofrequency Neurotomy. Retrieved on August 24, 2009 from Website: https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/injections/radiofrequency-neurotomy-facet-and-sacroiliac-joint-pain