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Pain Pract. 2002 Mar;2(1):47-52.

Radiofrequency neurolysis for facet arthropathy: a retrospective case series and review of the literature.

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University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA.



Facet arthropathy is a common cause of spine-related pain. Typically resulting from spondylosis, trauma, including surgical trauma or post surgical stress is also a significant cause. Radiofrequency thermocoagulation or neurolysis may be an effective modality providing long-term improvement.


To evaluate the success rates for radiofrequency neurolysis for facet arthropathy in a large retrospective case series in a single pain practice setting.


A retrospective case series involving chart reviews and patient follow-up visits or telephone contacts of radiofrequency neurolytic procedures performed for facet arthropathy over a 4-year period.


Private practice pain clinic with academic affiliation in Tulsa, OK.


One hundred forty eight patients with confirmed facet arthropathy refractory to conservative measures underwent 230 radiofrequency neurolysis procedures and were followed for a minimum of 1 year post procedure. For cervical facet procedures: 63 patients (106 procedures); age range F: 27-84 years old; M: 33-65 years old. For lumbar facet procedures: 85 patients (124 facet procedures); age range F: 19-81 years old; M: 20-77 years old.


After the radiofrequency procedure, patients were followed with periodic visits or telephone contacts. Outcome measures were McGill short form pain questionnaire, VAS pain scores, muscle spasm scores, tenderness, range of motion and patient subjective global responses.


Subjective patient responses were graded as follows: excellent:greater than 70% improvement, good: 50% to 70% improvement, fair: 30% to 49%, and poor: less than 30%. One hundred six radiofrequency procedures were performed in the 63 cervical cases and 124 in the 85 lumbar cases with those patients who had good to excellent responses undergoing repeat procedures. Of the patients with cervical facet radiofrequency procedures, 38 (37%), 51 (48%), 4 (3%) and 13 (12%) had excellent, good, fair or poor responses, respectively. Of the lumbar facet radiofrequency cases, 37 (30%), 52 (41%), 13 (10%) and 22 (19%) had excellent, good, fair or poor responses, respectively. Excellent responders noted an average duration of 10.8 months (range 3-34 months before dropping below 70% improvement level) for cervical cases and 7.9 months (range 3-20) for lumbar. Good responders noted an average duration of 6.5 months (range 3-22 months before dropping below 50% improvement level) for cervical and 6.8 months (range 3-48) for lumbar radiofrequency procedures. No significant side effects were experienced (short-term neuritis was seen in 2 patients who had cervical and 1 who had lumbar RFTC, but resolved in each case after a few weeks).


In summary, 85% of cervical and 71% of lumbar RFTC cases had at least a 50% improvement in symptoms for extended periods. RFTC of median branches for facet arthropathy is a safe and efficacious modality with the potential for long-term benefit.

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