Bipolar radiofrequency ablation lesion areas and confluence: An ex vivo study and technical report

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Pain practice : the official journal of World Institute of Pain








bipolar; interprobe distance; lesion confluence; lesion midpoint area; radiofrequency ablation


INTRODUCTION: Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has been used for nearly 100 years, treating an array of medical conditions including chronic pain. Radiofrequency (RF) energy depolarizes and repolarizes tissues adjacent to a probe producing heat and causing direct thermal injury. When positioned adjacent to neural structures, it leads to neural tissue injury and cell death interrupting pain signaling with the ultimate goal of providing lasting pain relief. Today, RFA is commonly used to treat cervical, thoracic, and lumbar zygapophyseal joints, sacroiliac joint, and more recently large peripheral joint-mediated pain. There are several applications of RFA systems, including bipolar, conventional thermal, cooled, protruding, and pulsed. As yet, no study has determined the best technical practice for bipolar RFA. OBJECTIVE: This ex vivo study examines RFA lesion midpoint (LMP) area and lesion confluence comparing three different commonly used gauge (g) probes (18-g, 20-g, and 22-g) with 10-mm active tips at various interprobe distances (IPD) to guide best technical practices for its clinical application. METHODS: Bipolar RFA lesions were generated in preservative-free chicken breast specimens using three different gauge probes (18-g, 20-g, and 22-g) with 10-mm active tips at various IPD (6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 mm). RF was applied for 105 s (15-s ramp time) at 80°C for each lesion at both room and human physiological temperature. The specimen tissues were dissected through the lesion to obtain a length, width, and depth, which were used to calculate the LMP area (mm ). The LMP areas of each thermal ablation were investigated using visualization and descriptive analysis. The Kruskal-Wallis test was performed to compare LMP areas between the two temperature groups and the three different gauge probe subgroups at the various IPDs. RESULTS: Of the 36 RF lesions (14: 18-g, 12: 20-g, and 10: 22-g) performed, 24 demonstrated lesion confluence. The average time to reach 80°C was 16-17 s; therefore, the average time of RF-energy delivery (at goal temperature) was 88-89 s despite varying needle size or IPD. Comparing the 25 and 37°C groups, 18-g probes produced mean LMP areas of 73.7 and 79.2 mm , respectively; 20-g probes produced mean LMP areas of 66 and 66.8 mm , respectively; 22-g probes produced mean LMP areas of 56.6 and 59.7 mm , respectively. There was no statistical evidence to state a difference regarding LMP area between temperature groups; however, the 18-g probes produced consistently larger LMP areas in the 37°C compared to 25°C specimen groups at each IPD. Lesion confluence was lost for 18-g, 20-g, and 22-g probes at IPD of 14, 12, and 10 mm, respectively, in both 25 and 37°C groups. LMP area was similar between 6 and 8 mm IPD in all of the three-gauge groups; however, there was a significant drop in LMP area from 8 mm IPD to 10 mm and greater. The 18-g, 20-g, and 22-g probes all demonstrated a sharp decline in LMP area when increasing the IPD from 8 to 10 mm. CONCLUSION: This ex vivo technical study evaluated bipolar RFA LMP areas and lesion confluence, and determined the recommended IPD of 18-g, 20-g, and 22-g probes to be less than 12, 10, and 8 mm, respectively, for best clinical practice. Placing bipolar probes at an IPD greater than 14, 12, and 10 mm, respectively, risks the loss of lesion confluence and failure to produce a clinically significant treatment response due to lack of nerve capture. In clinical practice, the use of injectate may produce larger lesions than demonstrated in this study. Additionally, in vivo factors may impact ablation zone size and ablation patterns. As there are a paucity of studies comparing various RFA applications and conventional RFA needles are least expensive, it is possible that bipolar conventional RFA is more cost-effective than other techniques.


Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine