Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic, evolving, painful and progressive condition that affects the distal extremities often following a traumatic injury. The hallmark of CRPS (also occasionally called RSD or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) is extreme pain that has exceeded the time course of usual healing post injury.  Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) may be associated with other concerning features such as color change of the extremity, heat or cold sensations, pain with light touch to the area, and inability to continue with work secondary to functional decline.  CRPS occurs in both sexes and across all age groups with a predilection for young and middle aged adults.  CRPS may result from minor injuries (i.e. sprains) or severe injuries (i.e. ankle fracture). Symptoms may include severe burning pain and extreme sensitivity to touch, swelling, abnormal sweating, temperature change (hot or cold), color changes (red or  purple/blue), and even evidence of bone loss on x-ray. The patient may also lose hair in affected limb. Regardless of the etiology, finding an outstanding pain physician with a comprehensive knowledge of this condition can allow for aggressive treatment and optimization of recovery.

An overview of the symptoms associated with CRPS:

  • Swelling
  • Loss of Motion
  • Abnormal Sweating
  • Extreme sensitivity to light touch (clothing, or bed sheets)
  • Temperature changes and color changes of affected extremity

There are two types of Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Type I demonstrates pain disproportionate to inciting event with evidence of skin edema (swelling), skin color change (blood flow abnormalities), abnormal sweating, and even limited movement and may occur after an injury without an obvious nerve trauma. Type II has the same symptoms as Type I, but only develops after an identifiable nerve injury has occurred (i.e. surgery).

Understanding how Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) pain evolves and the mechanism behind the syndrome requires an in-depth understanding of the body’s response to injury and the abnormal wiring that transmits painful and non-painful stimuli to the brain.  Finding a pain physician who understands Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) in great detail is critical, as it can significantly affect your clinical course and ultimately your improvement. A multimodal approach to CRPS, relying upon desensitization therapy and functional improvement with physical therapists, pharmacological agents to treat neuropathic pain (burning, tingling, pins/needles), rigorous interventional procedures to optimize functionality and day-to-day living, and potentially, spinal cord stimulation therapy, is essential to provide pain relief.

It is important to understand that CRPS symptoms are not confined to the region of injury. It has been reported that CRPS symptoms may spread over time to adjacent structures (i.e. hand to arm).

At Capitol Pain Institute, understand that aggressive and early management of Complex regional pain syndrome may lead to improved results. Our patients can expect a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan specific to your individualized needs.