What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)? CRPS — Symptoms and Treatment


Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS - medical abbreviation) or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) is a chronic pain condition that is thought to be triggered after an injury or trauma to a limb. It is believed the damage from an injury causes a secondary problem that creates a malfunction of the peripheral and central nervous systems.

Complex regional pain syndrome with CRPS symptoms and causes

The musculoskeletal symptoms are often severe pain, inflammation, and skin sensitivity. Because the patient may avoid using the affected limb due to pain, additional changes in the bones, joints, and muscles of the affected limb may occur, worsening the outcome.

The exact cause of CRPS is unclear, but in most cases, this condition is triggered by some nerve trauma that damages nerve fibers. This can be caused by fractures, surgical incisions, sprains or strains, and limb immobilization. Some minor injuries, such as burns, cuts, and even a needle can trigger CRPS as well. Poor tissue circulation and bad nerve health can increase the chance of developing this condition.

Diagnosis and Tests

The exact diagnostics procedure can differ for each patient. But the overall process is based on ruling out other possible conditions. To do this, a doctor might need blood test results, and other diagnostic tests such as an X-ray or MRI scan.

Physical and neurological examinations help exclude nerve damage from possible diseases, as well as determine CRPS signs, such as changes in the temperature or swelling.

Management and Treatment

There is currently no cure for CRPS, so the treatment targets relieving the symptoms. Among available treatment options are pain management with a drug treatment such as narcotics, topical analgesics, steroids, etc.; and physical therapy. Psychotherapy can also be recommended to help ease the symptoms.

If your doctor approves, you can also add alternative therapies for pain management to your treatment plan. For example, you can try traditional Chinese medicine therapy Acupuncture. It has many benefits and offers pain relief in many patients. Hypnosis and Reiki are also among the possible options.

Prognosis and Outlook

Each CRPS case is different, but with proper treatment, symptoms can improve over time. The main goals of treatment are pain relief and movement and strength restoration. The good news is that this condition rarely accelerates with treatment, so after a round of treatment, patients can generally return to a normal life.

But a timely visit to the doctor is key, especially considering the fact that this condition is often misdiagnosed. If your symptoms don’t go away quickly, get worse, the prescribed treatment doesn't give results, or if your symptoms look as if you may have CRPS, visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to choose a treatment plan.

Remember, some preventive measures, such as taking enough vitamins C and D to promote bone health and strength, especially after fractures are wise. Another good habit is to increase your physical activity.