Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a rare chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder which occurs when the nervous system and the immune system malfunction as they respond to tissue damage from trauma. The nerves misfire, sending constant pain signals to the brain. CRPS generally follows a musculoskeletal injury, a nerve injury, surgery or immobilization.

Although CRPS can affect anyone, it is more common in women with a recent increase in the number of children and adolescents who are diagnosed.

It has been shown that early diagnosis is generally the key to better outcomes. However, diagnosing CRPS is not a simple matter because there is no single diagnostic tool for this condition. Physicians diagnose it based on patient history, clinical examination, and laboratory results. Physicians must rule out any other condition that would otherwise account for the degree of pain and dysfunction before considering CRPS. Diagnosis is further complicated by the fact that symptoms of CRPS tend to come and go. As a result, patients often search for months or even years before gaining a definitive diagnosis.

Unfortunately, treatment for CRPS may be difficult because there isn’t one treatment that works for everyone. Most treatments and medications were developed to treat other chronic pain syndromes. However, treatment methods are continuously evolving as research and clinical practice provides new evidence and insights. No matter the treatment, the team approach to treatment is crucial to managing pain and restoring function.

Symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome:
  • Deep, aching, burning pain
  • Increased skin sensitivity
  • An initiating injury or traumatic event – sprain, fracture, minor surgery, etc., that should not cause as severe pain as being experienced or where the pain does not subside with healing
  • Moderate to severe pain associated with something that should not cause pain – touch of clothing or a shower
  • Continuing moderate to severe pain associated with heightened sensitivity to painful stimulation
  • Abnormal swelling in the affected area
  • Abnormal hair or nail growth
  • Abnormal skin color changes
  • Abnormal skin temperature – one side of the body is warmer or colder than the other
  • Abnormal sweating of the affected area
  • Limited range of motion, weakness, or other motor disorders – paralysis or dystonia

Treatments for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome:

  • Medication Management
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation
  • Warm Water Therapy
  • Calmare Therapy
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Tips for Managing Complex Regional Pain Syndrome:

  • Create an interdisciplinary pain team
  • Join the RSDSA community/support group
  • Get a service dog

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