Severe, debilitating pain after radiofrequency ablation

I had a radiofrequency ablation six days ago (on my L4-L5, I believe -- mid-back). All was fine, if a little sore, for two days, until I had to get back into my normal routine. I did some light cleaning and shortly after, began feeling sharp pinching in my spine and sharp, stabbing pain from the area on my spine where the procedure was done all the way out to my right side. It's now migrating into my rib area on the front of my body. It gets worse and worse as the day goes on and becomes worse with each passing day, although I limit my movement as much as possible. It now hurts just to breathe. I cannot shower or brush my teeth because I end up crying from the pain. It's completely relentless and only abates for as long as I can sleep or if I lie completely still in one particular position and try not to breathe deeply. 

My surgeon told me when I called that severe pain was normal and that I could use lidocaine patches and ibuprofen to cope. Neither even touches the pain. It seems like ice at least distracts me from it, but I can still feel the pain underneath the cold of the ice.

I've had gallstones and kidney infections, multiple surgeries, back injuries and sprained ankles, pancreatitis -- only the pancreatitis was worse than this. 

Has anyone ever had pain this severe after an ablation? Can anyone tell me that it will go away? Or could it be permanent? I am desperate for reassurance. If I had known it could be this bad, I never would have gotten the procedure. I was told to expect a little soreness, not a complete loss of any quality of life. 

I could live with the pain before the procedure and still go about my life and hobbies carefully. I cannot live with this. I'm truly terrified. I'm only in my 20s. 

Please, any experiences would be much appreciated.



  • If I were you and it doesn’t get better in another two weeks I’d request an MRI.  
  • Thank you, L4_L5. I certainly will. It just seems so inconcievably far beyond what I was told to expect. Do MRIs pick up nerve issues? My last MRI was clear. My surgeon's lack of concern should have calmed me, I guess, but it somehow made me feel worse that he didn't seem to understand the gravity of what I was dealing with.  

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  • Welcome scared123 we’re glad you’re here!

    While you’re waiting for a reply to your first post, please take a few moments to review the Code of Conduct and FAQ section, located under Forum Tools. There you will find important information about posting in the forum and helpful tips for new members.

    You’ll find a number of informative resources in the Pain Management Health Center on Spine-health, including doctor-authored articles about Cold Laser TherapyElectrotherapyNerve Blocks, and Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS). I hope you find these resources helpful.

    If it were me I would call the doctor again, let them know just how bad this is

    Again, welcome to the Veritas Health Forum.


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  • L4_L5LL4_L5 Posts: 1,275
    edited 10/23/2019 - 4:58 PM

    You’re very welcome. I’m just curious if your last MRI was clear why were you a candidate for a medial branch block or radio frequency ablation? Usually they do those when you have a herniated disc with nerve root impingement. I apologize if I misunderstood any aspect of your post. 

    They want me to do an RFA soon. Now I’m starting to get cold feet and second thoughts!!  :#

  • Thank you so much, Chip. I probably will. I'm not sure he understood just how debilitating it's gotten. 

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  • We cross-posted. Please see my post directly above yours. I second Chip’s suggestion as well. Good luck and please keep us posted.

  • Really, L4_L5? My understanding was that it was the only other thing left to try other than living with the pain (which I now wish I'd done, ugh) -- I tried two epidurals, a nerve block and half a dozen trigger point injections with another doctor (who refused to do an MRI) and this one to no avail. The trigger point injections occasionally helped slightly for a couple hours but never lasted. 

    Oh no! So sorry. I certainly don't mean to put you off. My experience seems to be an outlier -- I've heard so many success stories. I hope that whatever you decide is the right choice for you and brings you relief. We all deserve it.

  • scared123, I am also waiting for an appointment to have radiofrequency ablation, on my lumbar spine after facet joint injections helped me for abou t6 or 7 weeks. Did you have facet joint injections or Medial nerve block first to see if the ablation was likely to help you?

    I have read about them and have seen that the procedure can make pain worse for a short while.  I think the concensus was that increased pain shouldn't last longer than a couple of weeks.  Your pain does sound really extreme though, so perhaps contact your surgeon again to stress how much pain you are in and how your movement is so limited.

    I am really hoping that your pain will settle down very soon and that you then get wonderful relief that will last you a very long time, making you think it was all worth it!

    Please do let us know how things go to help those of us who are waiting for this procedure. :#

  • Doone1964DDoone1964 Posts: 7
    edited 10/29/2019 - 6:52 PM

    Scared123...I had RFA last Wednesday (10/23) for my L5/S1 facet joint. The procedure itself was totally painless, and I felt better almost immediately (likely due to the steroid my doctor injected). In fact, I felt about a 90% improvement for the first three days post-procedure and developed a false sense of my improvement. Over the weekend, I took a three mile walk, and did about 40 minutes of peddling on the stationary bike (nothing too strenuous). By Sunday night, I was in so much pain I couldn't sleep. I spent Monday at work, unable to stand or bend over without a great deal of pain and discomfort. I called the doctor and his assistant said that the steroid probably wore off and that it is normal to still feel pain for a couple of weeks while the nerves are dying off. She said that I might have aggravated the already-inflamed area with exercise. However, this pain is actually worse than the pain I had before the procedure. I'm taking a rest day (or two) and hoping it calms down. Please keep us posted on your progress.

  • Jellyhall, thank you so much for your response! It's good to hear that others have had increased pain for a couple of weeks. I've been in to see my doctor twice since I made this post and he said that this "can happen," but it has been exactly two weeks since my procedure and if anything, it has gotten worse. He is aware that I can barely breathe and can't do any lifting, so I do hope he understands just how debilitating this is. The thing that frustrates me the most is that I wasn't warned how severe this could be. If I had been, I wouldn't have gone through with the procedure and risked ruining my quality of life completely. 

    We've done two sets of trigger point injections to try to calm down the nerves -- the first one did nothing and the second one actually made it worse! 

    He also gave me pain meds, the first of which did nothing and the second of which I'll be trying over the next few days to see if they help. 

    Thank you so much for the good wishes. I certainly won't do the ablation again, but I do hope I can at least get back to my pre-procedure self. Hoping yours brings you significant relief :) 

  • Doone123, this sounds so similar to what happened to me! Have your rest days helped you? I hope we didn't break ourselves by moving too soon after the procedure. I posted an (unfortunately glum) update above.  

  • jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 92
    edited 11/04/2019 - 7:37 PM


    I am really sorry to hear that things have got even worse for you.  Have you tried icing the area?  if you have inflammation after the ablation, icing may help you.  It does often seem to help people in pain after procedures.  Has your surgeon given you any idea of what the next step is for you?  

  • Hi jellyhall -- thank you! It is incredibly strange and frustrating. They're now trying me on medication no. 3, so I'm taking a muscle relexant once per day and meloxicam once per day. The muscle relaxant helps with the accompanying muscle spasms (which really don't phase me anyway) but not the pain itself. I've been told to take the meloxicam for a week to see if there's any improvement before trying something else. 

    It does seem to me that I've been ever so slightly better over the last day or so, but it's just so hard to tell whether that's because I've gotten used to the pain and found weird positions to exist in that relieve it a bit or whether I'm actually getting better  :#

    Before the procedure, he told me this was essentially the last thing we could try because there's no clear pathology that would make me a candidate for surgery. The pain is a clear result of a fall/injury from over a year ago, but we can't identify exactly what was injured, so they've just been poking and prodding me to see if something works. To be honest, this RFA experience has been so traumatizing that I'll probably throw in the towel after I (hopefully) recover. Not worth all of the extra pain -- I'll take my original injury in a heartbeat and if I can't lift much for the rest of my life, oh well. Better than not being able to breathe for the next six decades! 

  • And yes, I've been icing the area once or twice per day and it does seem to help slightly for a few minutes, so that's something :) 

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