Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS), involves a disturbance in the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is the network of nerves located alongside the spinal cord that controls certain bodily functions, such as opening and closing blood vessels or sweat glands. CRPS causes musculoskeletal pain and skin changes, primarily in the hands and feet.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Causes

Experts aren’t certain what causes some people to develop CRPS while others do not. In more than 90 percent of cases, CRPS is triggered by trauma or an injury, such as fractures, sprains/strains, surgical or medical procedures, or other types of injuries.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Symptoms

There are three distinct stages of reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. In the first stage, signs and symptoms include pain, swelling and stiffness in the affected areas; changes in temperature and color of skin; and rapid nail and hair growth.

The second stage occurs after weeks or months, and includes such symptoms as burning pain, cool skin, brittle nails, swelling and muscles spasms.

The third stage may result in permanent changes: severe pain; skin becoming drawn; muscles and other tissues becoming wasted and contracted (tight); or reduced joint movement and limb function.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Diagnosis

To diagnose CRPS (also called RSDS), a medical and family history will be taken and laboratory tests conducted.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Treatment

An early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce or prevent permanent damage. Treatments may include:

  •        Biofeedback
  •        Medications: alpha-blocking drugs, calcium channel blockers, local anesthetic blockers, Bien block
  •        Physical therapy
  •        Surgery
  •        TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Self-Care

Exercise is an important part of rehabilitation for CRPS. Exercise can strengthen the affected limb and improve flexibility. Occupational therapy can also help learn new ways to perform daily tasks. 

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