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Is a Lumbar Rhizotomy Right for You?

If you have facet joint pain that hasn’t been helped by other treatment methods, such as heat, physical therapy, NSAIDs, or even lifestyle changes, then a lumbar rhizotomy might be your best choice. This treatment option targets the nerves in your spine that are causing your pain to flare up. It’s usually used solely for facet joint pain, no matter where it occurs in your back. In order to determine whether or not you’re a candidate for a lumbar rhizotomy, a number of tests need to be done and other treatments must be attempted first. Here’s what you need to know in order to answer this question.

Facet Joint Pain

Your body has one facet joint for every vertebra in your back. This joint goes around the interior portion of the spine, encircling the spinal cord. Each vertebra has two of these facet joints. They exist to make your spine flexible. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to bend over, shimmy your back from side to side, or move as you do. However, like the other joints in your body, the facet joints are prone to being damaged by osteoarthritis. When the fluid in between the joints wears away, leaving the pieces of bone exposed, you end up with pain. This can be in the form of stiffness, general aches, tenderness, and more. Thankfully, facet joint pain tends to be more annoying than excruciating, but this doesn’t mean that you need to suffer from it. 

Treatments for Facet Joint Pain

Many pain specialists see a lumbar rhizotomy as the last option. They’ll have you try things like physical therapy, changing your lifestyle, and even taking NSAIDs first. They might also have you use heat therapy in order to help the pain and stiffness that are hallmarks of facet joint pain. However, when none of those work as well and you still end up with pain that seems to get worse, then a lumbar rhizotomy becomes your best option.

What Is a Lumbar Rhizotomy?

A lumbar rhizotomy is a procedure that involves severing the nerve that causes the facet joint pain. Since these nerve endings are what sends the pain signals to the brain in the first place, once they are gone, ideally, your pain will improve. The procedure works in a very specific way. The specialist takes a needle and inserts into the nerve ending that is right near the inflamed facet joint. Then, a radiofrequency is sent through that needle that disables or severs the nerve. This procedure doesn’t take long – around a half hour – and is done on an outpatient basis. You’ll be able to go back to living your life (as long as you take it easy and don’t lift anything heavy for a few days), practically right afterward. 

Double-Check the Causes of Your Pain First

However, before the lumbar rhizotomy is scheduled, your doctor will need to do so tests to ensure that it is indeed the cause of your problem. Once they determine that it is, everything will move forward from there. 

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