Facet Thermal Ablation

Facet thermal ablation is a surgical procedure that is designed to alleviate the pain, stiffness, and other discomfort associated with spinal osteoarthritis. During the procedure, a surgeon uses a heat source to neutralize, or ablate, a medial branch nerve ending that has become exposed through the deterioration of cartilage that lines the ends of a vertebral (facet) joint. This exposed nerve is the primary source of pain, stiffness, or a sensation of warmth associated with spinal osteoarthritis. By deadening the offending nerve, the pain and other discomfort is removed.

Other Names for Spinal Arthritis

The conditions subject to treatment with a facet thermal ablation procedure are either closely related or – more often than not – exactly the same thing under a different name. What it all amounts to, essentially, is age-related osteoarthritis. This condition is neither curable nor reversible, but the symptoms can be managed either through conservative treatment methods or, failing that, an operation such as thermal ablation. In addition to simple, “spinal arthritis,” the condition might be referred to as:

  • Facet disease
  • Facet joint syndrome
  • Facet hypertrophy
  • Facet arthritis
  • Degenerative facet joints
  • Spinal osteoarthritis
  • Spondylosis

When to Consider Facet Thermal Ablation

If you have been diagnosed with spinal osteoarthritis and have yet to achieve meaningful relief after several weeks or months of treating the symptoms with medication and other conservative methods, it might be time to think about surgery as an option. Ablation might be called for if the symptoms have not progressed beyond those produced by the exposed nerve ending in the joint. However, another result of osteoarthritis is the development of bone spurs (osteophytes), which can begin to compress adjacent nerve roots or the spinal cord if they grow large enough. If nerve compression is present, facet thermal ablation alone might not be enough to provide meaningful relief.