knee physical therapy

Blocking Knee Pain with Radio Waves

As our nation ages, more and more people are dealing with severe knee pain — even after therapy, medications, and injections. The good new is, there’s a new solution for those of us who are too young, too old, or too ill for knee replacement surgery: radiofrequency ablation.

“It’s a new application of a tried and proven technique,” says Zongfu Chen, MD, medical director of UPMC Pain Medicine at UPMC East. “We are using radio waves to disrupt and cut off the nerve signal from the knee.”

According to Dr. Chen, radiofrequency ablation has been used for nearly three decades to relieve back and neck problems. Now, doctors are using radio waves to generate heat directed at three of five branches of nerves that start at the knee. Relief can be felt almost immediately and can last up to a year.

Dr. Chen, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, says the procedure is done in two steps. The first step involves temporarily blocking the nerves in order to see if your knee pain goes away. If so, you can proceed to the second step — radiofrequency ablation.

This minimally invasive procedure takes about 30 minutes and is performed with local anesthesia and, sometimes, light sedation. No surgical tools are needed — just three special needles used to heat and deactivate the nerves. Patients can resume normal activities the next day.

Dr. Chen says patients may feel discomfort again when the nerves begin to regenerate. The radiofrequency ablation procedure can be repeated, if needed.

Benefits of Using Radio Waves to Treat Knee Pain

  • Minimally invasive outpatient procedure
  • Pain relief lasts 9 to 12 months
  • No incision
  • No down time
  • Can be repeated multiple times

Risks of Using Radio Waves to Treat Knee Pain

  • Localized aching
  • Temporary weakness
  • Small chance of infection
  • Some patients feel no relief

To find out if you’re a candidate for radiofrequency ablation for knee pain, contact your orthopaedic specialist or primary care physician.