The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of percutaneous, controlled radiofrequency trigeminal rhizotomy (RF-TR). The outcome of 1,600 patients with idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia after RF-TR was analyzed after a follow-up period of 1 to 25 years. A total of 1,600 patients with idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia underwent 2,138 percutaneous radiofrequency rhizotomy procedures between 1974 and 1999. Sixty-seven patients had bilateral idiopathic trigeminal neuralgia, and 36 of them were treated with bilateral RF-TR; 1,216 patients (76%) were successfully managed with a single procedure, and the remainder were treated with multiple procedures. Benzodiazepines and narcotic analgesics were used for anesthesia because patient cooperation during the procedures was essential so that the physician could create selective, controlled lesions. The average follow-up time was 68.1 +/- 66.4 months (range, 12-300 mo). Acute pain relief was accomplished in 97.6% of patients. Complete pain relief was achieved at 5 years in 57.7% of the patients who underwent a single procedure. Pain relief was reported in 92% of patients with a single procedure or with multiple procedures 5 years after the first rhizotomy was performed. At 10-year follow-up, 52.3% of the patients who underwent a single procedure and 94.2% of the patients who underwent multiple procedures had experienced pain relief; at 20-year follow-up, 41 and 100% of these patients, respectively, had experienced pain relief. No mortalities occurred. After the first procedure was performed, early pain recurrence (<6 mo) was observed in 123 patients (7.7%) and late pain recurrence was observed in 278 patients (17.4%). Complications included diminished corneal reflex in 91 patients (5.7%), masseter weakness and paralysis in 66 (4.1%), dysesthesia in 16 (1 %), anesthesia dolorosa in 12 (0.8%), keratitis in 10 (0.6%), and transient paralysis of Cranial Nerves III and VI in 12 (0.8%). Permanent Cranial Nerve VI palsy was observed in two patients, cerebrospinal fluid leakage in two, carotid-cavernous fistula in one, and aseptic meningitis in one. Percutaneous, controlled RF-TR represents a minimally invasive, low-risk technique with a high rate of efficacy. The procedure may safely be repeated if pain recurs.