Pain Treatment Ablation

Ablation refers to the process of removing or disabling the function of a body part in the treatment of certain conditions. In fact, doctors use various types of ablation to treat a wide variety of health problems. Because each form of ablation targets a specific type of tissue and has different abilities to penetrate the body, the type of ablation a doctor chooses depends on a patient’s condition and his current state of health.

Types of Ablation

Some of the most common types of ablation include:

  • bone marrow ablation to treat leukemia and other immune deficiency disorders
  • cardiac ablation to treat arrhythmias and other heart conditions
  • endometrial ablation to treat heavy or irregular menstrual cycles
  • rotoablation to treat coronary heart disease
  • surface ablation to remove skin spots and perform rejuvenation procedures.

Rather than focusing on ablations that treat a certain condition, we will take a more in-depth look at two methods of performing ablation, namely the radiofrequency and cryotherapy techniques.

Radiofrequency Ablation

The most common form of ablation is radiofrequency ablation. This type of ablation uses an electrical current to heat up the localized area of the body that has been injured or is causing a patient pain. Using a special machine, the doctor places a needle near the affected nerve ending. The machine then generates an electrical current, which is transmitted from the machine through the needle. The electrical energy desensitizes the nerve ending, thereby reducing the pain in this area.

Radiofrequency ablation is both safe and effective for treating a variety of conditions, including:

  • adrenal tumors
  • arthritis
  • breast tumors
  • heart conditions, such as arrhythmias
  • liver tumors
  • sleep apnea
  • snoring
  • varicose veins.

While results vary from patient to patient, radiofrequency ablation typically produces effects that last for about nine months.

Cryotherapy Ablation

Another common type of ablation is cryotherapy ablation (also referred to as cryoablation), a procedure in which very cold temperatures are used to destroy diseased or abnormal cells. During a cryotherapy ablation, a doctor inserts a cryoprobe (a hollow needle that transmits cool or freezing gas or liquid) into the affected area of the skin. In some cases, doctors only need to place the cryoprobe on the skin, rather than fully insert it.

Cryotherapy ablation is highly effective and has minimal side effects because cryoprobes are efficient at targeting and destroying localized cells that are causing patients health problems.

Although researchers are still exploring all of the possible applications of cryotherapy ablation, it is currently used to treat:

  • arrhythmias
  • breast tumors
  • liver tumors
  • lung tumors
  • kidney tumors
  • prostate tumors.

In general, cryotherapy is most effective at treating kidney (renal) and prostate tumors. Cryotherapy ablation usually has long-lasting results, with many patients never having a recurrence of pain or other symptoms.

Side Effects of Ablation

Although different types of ablation have varied complications (both in type and intensity of the side effect), they are generally uncommon. In fact, ablation is among the few procedures that almost all patients can tolerate. While some mild discomfort is to be expected during an ablation procedure, potentially serious, yet rare, side effects can include:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • nerve damage
  • soreness
  • stroke.

Talk to your doctor about whether or not ablation will be an effective pain management strategy for your condition.

Keep in mind that not everyone is a good candidate for the various types of ablation. People who shouldn’t get ablation include those who:

  • have bleeding problems
  • have food allergies
  • suffer from active infections
  • take blood coagulation medications.

Similarly, those who are allergic to local anesthetics should let their doctor know beforehand, as ablation may also not be suited to these people.


Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (2007). Radiofrequency Ablation. Retrieved August 31, 2007, from the DHMC Web site: