RFA - Pain One Week Post Procedure

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. 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. Has anyone else experienced worse pain post-procedure? Is this temporary? I'm a little anxious about this turn of events as I expected improvement and this is disappointing and scary.



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  • Hey Doone! Thanks for your comment on my post. I just wanted to check in and see how you're feeling. (I don't know if we're notified when someone responds to our comments, so sorry for checking in twice.) Did your rest days help? It sounds like we're in the same boat, so I'd love to hear how you're doing and see how we can help each other and share information. 

    I asked my doctor point blank yesterday: "Is there any chance this could be permanent?" He said no. So, while I'm not imparting medical advice -- and I'm not sure I totally believe him -- I did want to share that my particular doctor says my particular pain isn't permanent. Hope this provides some hope and reassurance. 

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  • Sorry you are going through this. Keep up hope you will come through the other side just fine.

  • Hi Scared123. Thanks so much for your response and for sharing your doctor's comments. I also reached out to my doctor on Wednesday. His assistant told me the same thing your doctor told you...that everyone varies in their recovery time (usually 2-4 weeks), and that it's unlikely the procedure made things worse. She said that the worst case scenario is it just doesn't relieve the pain. Her guess is that I aggravated the area by exercising, and that the muscles are spasming, so she prescribed muscle relaxers and naproxen (all I had before was Tramadol, which didn't even touch the pain). I woke up yesterday feeling better, but had a lot of work to do around the house, so I am back to being in pain today. It's frustrating, to say the least. I'm on day 9, so I expected to be feeling almost back to normal by this point. How about you...any improvement at all?

  • Thank you Truck...I certainly hope that will be the case.  :)

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  • Hey Doone! I'm so glad to hear your doctor's assistant had similar news  and that a couple weeks' recovery isn't out of the ordinary. Mine also prescribed me muscle relaxants -- I can't say they're helping with the pain, but they do help with the spasms I was getting along with the pain. Also similarly, I feel just fine when I can lay down and do nothing for a day, but when I have to get up and do light chores or just walk to the car, the pain slowly creeps back in until it's back to that original crippling level. Are you working through all this? I'm thinking about taking a week off of work to give myself time to (hopefully) heal properly, but I work at a computer all day, so I really didn't expect that to be necessary. Even sitting up for too long seems to aggravate my nerves! So sorry to hear you're still dealing with this too -- it's disheartening for sure. 

  • Hi Scared. I had a little improvement yesterday...I can at least bend over with less pain. One thing that has helped is using lidocaine patches (available over the counter at Walgreens, etc.). I haven't done much at all except be a couch potato, but I'm back at work today and I also work at a computer. Hoping I don't re-aggravate things. Maybe this will be the week we turn the corner?

  • I sure hope so, Doone! Relieving to hear that you're doing a little bit better and that the lidocaine patches have worked for you. For some reason they didn't work for me, but they were worth a shot! I may take a page from your book and take a few days off this week. Let me know how it goes. 

  • Scared123...I sure hope you're feeling better. I worked all day Monday, and by Tuesday I noticed a significant improvement in my pain level. Today, I'm almost back to normal (normal being completely pain-free). It's been exactly two weeks today since the procedure, so I think I've rounded the corner in the recovery process. Now just have to see how long the pain relief lasts! Keep us posted on your progress.

  • That's great, Doone! How relieving. I hope the procedure brings you lasting recovery. Out of curiosity, did you find that your post-procedure pain got progressively worse the more you moved? 

    I may have slight improvement (one point or so down on the pain scale), but nothing significant or meaningful, unfortunately. For now I'm just trying to live with the pain because my doctor is seemingly unconcerned by my lack of progress, but man -- what I wouldn't give to go back to my pre-procedure self! I haven't left the house in a week and can barely drive to my appointments to the doctor without breaking down in tears. My partner has to bathe me, which is humiliating. (For the record, I could get around and live my life perfectly fine before this, so my quality of life has gone from about a 7 to a 2.) I think my doctor legitimately crippled me. Here's hoping he only crippled me temporarily!

  • Funny you mention pain that worsens with activity. Because I was feeling better, I decided to get active again (I'm pretty active, normally), so I did a spin class, yoga, and skied a few runs (we live in the CO mountains). Felt great while doing it all, but after I went for a long walk two evenings ago, I had a recurrence of pain. It's not horrendous, but I'm definitely feeling it. I'm still within the 2-4 week recovery window, so I think the nerves are still just healing from the procedure, and can become aggravated. I sure hope you start feeling better soon. Did your doctor think that you would start seeing some improvement soon? Did he/she recommend anything like PT? My doc told me he's seen patients who took four weeks before they experienced any relief. Jury is still out on whether my procedure made any difference. 

  • This is so interesting, Doone! They should do a study on us. I had the exact same thing happen -- I started feeling slightly better, so I decided to get adventurous and take the trash out/fold some laundry. (Actually, I had little choice since my SO wasn't home to do it.) That was enough to put me right back into pain. It's not quite as bad as it was, but it's bad again. My doctor told me that most people recover within 3-4 weeks but that some people's nerves do take longer to die off and that I should abstain from all activity until I'm better. No chores, no exercise, nothing. Ugh! He hasn't recommended anything like PT but did say he might approve me for medical leave from work if I turn out to be one of those people who can't recover unless they literally don't move. He did say I'm at the point where I should be feeling some improvement. He also gave me a back brace to wear during the day, but because I don't have anyone around to put it on me in the morning, that won't be super useful. 

    What about you -- did your doctor give you a long-term prognosis as far as next steps? Any PT or new meds in your future?

    I'm sure we'll both recover sooner or later, but the wait and not knowing can be so frustrating. 

    You are truly adventurous -- I'm glad you got to enjoy some activity while it lasted, anyway. I'm usually very active too, so all this R&R is really hard.  

  • Doone, how are you doing a few months out? I'm still having pain from the procedure -- needless to say, it didn't work -- but it does seem to have reached a "vaguely tolerable" level. Still limited in what I can do, but learning to cope.

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