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It’s impossible to know the real number of people who suffer from chronic knee pain per year.
According to the CDC, around 25% of people in the USA in the past month experienced some form of knee pain, which perhaps indicates the vast numbers we’re talking about.
The reality is that severe pain is deeply debilitating and affects the quality of life of the individual. Focusing on anything else is incredibly difficult when you are in so much pain. I say that from experience, having suffered from torn ACL ligaments in the past (check out the book I wrote following that experience here)
Saying that – research is advancing tremendously in what we now know of knee joint problems. There are multiple options out there that can help relieve knee pain, thereby improving patient mobility and enabling normal activities to resume.
One of the more specialized, lesser-known treatments is called knee ablation. Otherwise known as a radiofrequency ablation procedure. Some even call it genicular nerve ablation, depending on the clinical setting.
This post aims to cover as much as possible in terms of what we know about knee ablation, who it’s suitable for, why have it done, and what to be aware of/risks involved.
Degree of pain relief
First up, let’s talk about what to expect if you decide a knee ablation procedure is right for you.
Knee ablation is known as a minimally invasive procedure (and is usually carried out as an outpatient procedure). A pain management specialist is enrolled to carry out the ablation, usually a doctor or medical professional.
You’d be considered an ideal candidate for knee ablation if you:
- Have a confirmed diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis
- Have a medical history of steroid injections with minimal side effects
- Have exhausted other options first, such as physical therapy, pain medications, and other forms of conservative treatment.
During the procedure, an electrical current is passed over the specific nerve (s) diagnosed as causing knee pain, creating heat that kills off the troublesome nerve endings, destroying their connection to the brain. This results in successful pain numbing and can provide, in many cases, long-term relief.
To go into detail, a small needle is placed as a guide into the knee joint (local anesthesia is used to numb the area beforehand). Then, once the correct nerve (s) are found radio waves are passed along the needle, reaching the nerve in question directly, causing minimal disruption to the procedure site.
So long as the injection site is kept sterile and the correct nerve fibers are located, knee ablation has good outcomes. The pain specialist should be on hand to answer any questions you may have and to reassure you about the procedure and subsequent recovery going forward as well.
Is knee ablation a safe procedure?
As a treatment of chronic pain in the knee, on the whole, knee ablation is seen as safe. There are known side effects that may occur, which are important to be aware of.
Common side effects include:
- Pain and swelling in the surrounding tissue of the knee (this usually subsides a few days following the procedure)
- A tingling sensation in the knee
- A painful area at the injection site
Even though knee ablation is seen as ‘minimally invasive,’ it’s important to know that a procedure is still being done. The knee is undergoing treatment of sorts, so there will almost certainly be some soreness once the local anesthetic wears off.
Make yourself ready for this by preparing at home with lots of ice packs, hot drinks, and blankets to keep you comfortable.
Knee Ablation Recovery Time
Generally, the recovery time from a knee ablation procedure is short – we’re talking 2-3 days at most. This is due to the rate of success being high in knee ablation and the risk of serious injury being small. If the radio waves are targeted correctly and the specific nerves are severed, then the outcome of genicular nerve radiofrequency ablation is good.
You may even experience immediate pain relief following the procedure, but remember the local anesthetic or alternative numbing medication used will also provide some relief instantly.
Be sure to rest well following knee ablation, even though you may want to start running or cycling immediately! Give your knee time to recover. Even though you may feel great relief from the pain you’ve experienced for so long, there are tender areas inside the knee following the needle insertion and the area surrounding the targeted nerves need proper rest and care.
Consider elevating your knee as often as possible and using an ice pack to reduce any swelling.
Drink plenty of clear liquids to help your body rid itself of medication and excess waste to ensure a quick recovery.
There are cases where a specific area – larger than just one or two nerves, let’s say – needs targeting.
If this is something you feel is applicable to you, then certainly make sure you bring it up with your relevant healthcare provider, as they are best positioned to explain it.
I hope you found this post interesting. Why not consider reading some of my other posts on knee injuries? You can find them here.