Migraine pain is excruciating, and there are probably times you wish you could stick a red hot poker in your head and burn out the source of the pain. That’s exactly what radiofrequency ablation (RFA) does, and if it sounds a little scary, that’s because it is. The procedure actually has a long record of safety and effectiveness. but there are some isolated reports of serious complications that might give you pause.
At the very least, you should see a neuromuscular dentist to learn whether TMJ might be triggering your migraines before trying a more severe migraine treatment option.
How RFA Works
RFA works to treat chronic pain by disabling your nerves. A needle-like probe is pressed into the target area, where radio waves then create an electric current that causes heat damage to the nerve, making it unable to carry pain signals to your brain. Thus, although the condition isn’t resolved, you stop hurting. RFA has been used for many types of pain relief, including arthritis, neck pain, and lower back pain. Perhaps 70% of patients may experience relief using this treatment, which may last for 6-12 months although in rare cases people report years of relief.
RFA is also used to kill small tumors without surgery.
RFA for Migraine Treatment
Although RFA has a fairly long track record for some types of chronic pain, it’s a relatively new approach to migraine treatment.
First, diagnostic nerve blocks are performed on suspect nerves in your neck. By using anesthetic to numb your nerves, your doctor will determine which ones are actually responsible for your migraines. Once the culprit nerves have been identified, RFA will be used to disable them.
RFA Risks and Complications
Most of the information available for RFA relates to other types of chronic pain control, and it points to a very safe procedure with only minor risks, such as localized swelling and discomfort after the local anesthetic wears off. Infection is always a risk when your skin is punctured, but it’s a small risk in this case.
However, people who have tried this procedure for migraines report a side effect that might give migraine sufferers pause: they experience more migraine pain as a result. Some people report more frequent migraines or more intense pain, neither of which seems like a good risk. However, these reports are anecdotal, and it’s hard to know how prevalent they are.
A Neuromuscular Dentist May Be Able to Help
Before you take the drastic step of burning your nerves, talk to a neuromuscular dentist about whether TMJ might be playing a role in triggering your migraines. A neuromuscular dentist can give you a different perspective, and TMJ treatment is noninvasive and completely reversible, although you can often move on to more permanent treatment if you are getting good results.