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Cervical Dorsal Root Rhizotomy

A cervical dorsal root rhizotomy is a surgical procedure that uses radiofrequency pulses to inactivate some of the sensory nerve fibers that come from the muscles and enter the spinal cord in order to relieve neck pain. Once inactivated, the nerves cannot conduct pain sensations to the brain, thus  decreasing or eliminating the pain completely. UPMC surgeons often perform this procedure after a steroid block, or surgical sympathectomy, has failed to produce long-lasting results. A cervical dorsal root rhizotomy may provide months or years of pain relief in patients in whom the steroid blocks wear off too quickly.

During the procedure, the patient is positioned on a fluoroscope, a type of x-ray machine. Our surgeons pass a needle to the small nerves that supply the joints between the two vertebrae, using the fluoroscope for guidance. A radiofrequency generator is then attached and the surgeon uses radiofrequency pulses to inactivate the nerve. After the procedure, patients spend an hour or two recovering before being released from the hospital.

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