Third-Degree Burn from Cooled Radiofrequency Ablation of Medial Branch Nerves for Treatment of Thoracic Facet Syndrome

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Radiofrequency ablation of medial branch nerves is considered a safe and effective treatment for chronic facet joint pain in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral spine. Cooled radiofrequency ablation (C-RFA) is gaining popularity over conventional thermal radiofrequency ablation (RFA) in pain management. However, complications of C-RFA have not been reported in the literature. We present a first report of third-degree skin burn resulting from C-RFA electrode use for the treatment of facet syndrome.

A 61-year-old woman (BMI of 21.8 kg/m2) with thoracic facet syndrome underwent C-RFA of the T1–4 medial branch nerves (Thoracool System, Baylis Medical Company, Montreal, QC, Canada). Lesioning at the superior-lateral aspect of the thoracic transverse processes at each level was performed. During lesioning of the T2 MBN on the T3 transverse process, skin blanching 15 mm in diameter was noted around the introducer needle with patient complaints of severe, localized pain. Postprocedurally the skin injury at this level worsened in appearance, with a 20 mm × 4 mm skin defect, which took nearly 5 months to heal.

With C-RFA, internally cooled electrodes are capable of creating large volume spherical lesions, a size advantage over conventional RFA. Although C-RFA lesion size may overcome the anatomic variability of target nerve location and potentially improve pain outcomes, added vigilance is required in thin patients and in anatomic regions of minimal subcutaneous tissue between the lesion target and the dermis. Skin burns at the site of the RF electrode are a potential risk under such conditions.

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