Last Updated: 3/2/2023

Facet joints, located at the back of the spine, are responsible for the stability and flexibility of the spine. When these joints are injured, as in a rear-end car accident while waiting in traffic on I-80 in Des Moines, the patient may suffer from pain in the back and other areas.

The severity of pain can vary, but the effects can be debilitating and sometimes surgical intervention is required to restore the quality of life. If you’ve been injured in a car accident and are suffering from pain in your back, you might have damage in your facet joints. Rhizotomy surgery may help relieve your pain.

What is rhizotomy surgery?

Rhizotomy is used to treat facet joint syndrome, spinal arthritis or spondylosis. These conditions usually involve swelling in adjacent vertebrae in the spine, which presses against the spinal cord and causes pain. Doctors might recommend rhizotomy if pain medication, facet joint injections and/or physical therapy don't improve the patient's symptoms or condition.

In the procedure, the surgeon uses X-ray imaging as a guide to identifying the spinal roots causing the patient's pain. The surgeon will insert a needle with an electrode at its end and place it next to the facet joint. Heat is applied to the nerve root, killing the nerve. This results in a dead nerve unable to transmit pain signals from the problem area to the brain, so the patient no longer experiences pain.

There's little recovery time for the procedure, and most patients can leave the hospital the day of the procedure. Pain reduction can last anywhere from a few months to many years. Patients usually feel pain reduction within a few hours of the procedure.

Are you a candidate for rhizotomy surgery?

Not all patients injured in a car crash are eligible for rhizotomy as a method for pain relief. Patients are thoroughly tested to determine any medical complications that could occur as a result of the treatment, response to anesthesia or other stresses associated with surgery.

Other treatment options are often exhausted prior to exploring the possibility of rhizotomy surgery, including injectable therapies. Rhizotomy is most often recommended for extreme cases where the injured party experiences difficulty walking or other effects of extreme nerve spasticity.


Rhizotomy surgery is an in-patient procedure and most often warrants at least one overnight stay in the hospital after the surgery. Patients who undergo rhizotomy for back pain after a car accident will almost immediately begin to receive physical therapy after the operation. Pain medication is often required to help cope with post-operational discomfort.

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks involved with rhizotomy surgery, and your surgeon should be able to review your specific concerns with you prior to the operation. Nerve damage is one typical risk associated with rhizotomy, as is sensation loss or alteration. Be sure to discuss these and any other concerns you have about these possible risks with your medical team.

But a facet rhizotomy using a radio frequency probe is an outpatient procedure that does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. Talk to your doctor about other requirements if undergoing this less invasive rhizotomy procedure.

In many cases, rhizotomy is a successful way to restore gait and reduce pain after a car accident. Your doctor will go over other details of the procedure and help you navigate the recovery period afterward to assess the effectiveness of the surgery or radiofrequency procedure.

Medical Benefits to Cover Rhizotomy Procedures

Your employer is allowed to choose your medical care if you were hurt at work and pursuing workers' comp, so before undergoing any procedure, make sure the employer-chosen doctor approved it. If you undergo a procedure or receive care without approval, it may not be covered.

To establish eligibility for workers' compensation benefits, you first must prove the injury is work-related. Compensable injuries include those caused by a work condition, a pre-existing condition aggravated by the work environment or illnesses that were the result of the work environment. Facet joint syndrome and spinal arthritis can arise from work conditions, for example, such as repetitive movement in the workplace or even an accident that injures the back. Workers may have employment records, medical records, doctor's testimony and other paperwork available to them to prove that their injury is compensable.

Workers who have undergone a rhizotomy procedure or who are dealing with facet joint syndrome or other back injuries as a result of a work injury should contact a workers' compensation lawyer. A workers' compensation lawyer can help workers receive the compensation to which they're entitled. In some cases, this may include permanent partial disability. Back injuries are unscheduled member disabilities, so more than just the impairment rating will be taken into account for PPD benefits.

Call Walker, Billingsley & Bair If You Need Legal Help After An Accident

If you’ve sustained serious back injuries as the result of a car accident, you might be suffering physically, emotionally and financially.

There are multiple concerns that can add stress to your situation while you heal.

  • mounting medical bills (such as those from rhizotomy surgery or procedures).
  • lost time at work.
  • and, reduced ability to perform your job in the future.

If you need help after a motor vehicle accident, Walker, Billingsley & Bair are willing. Call us today at (888) 435-9886 to set up a consultation to discuss your case with an attorney in Des Moines.

Corey Walker
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With over 28 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.