What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome refers to an ongoing, sometimes severe, complication following an injury. The exact cause of CRPS is unknown, but it appears to involve changes in the way the central and peripheral nervous systems (brain and nerves) process pain signals. Essentially, the brain perceives ongoing pain out of proportion to the original injury. There are two main types of CRPS:
– CRPS Type 1 (formerly known as RSD): This type is not associated with a confirmed nerve injury. Any part of the body can be affected.
– CRPS Type 2: This type is associated with an injury or pressure on one or more nerves. It was previously called Causalgia and only the area of injury is affected.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of CRPS vary from person to person but may include:
– Intense pain that seems disproportionate to the original injury. The pain is described as burning, stabbing or electric-like.
– Changes in skin color, temperature or texture over the affected area such as skin that is overly sensitive to touch or cool to the touch.
– Issues with motor skills over the affected area such as limited range of motion, stiffness or tremor.
– Swelling in the affected limb.
– Changes in hair or nail growth on the affected limb.
Diagnosis and Treatment
As there are no specific diagnostic tests for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, doctors must thoroughly examine the individual and consider a number of factors for a diagnosis:
– A history of an initiating noxious event or injury to an extremity.
– Continuing pain that is disproportionate or beyond what would be expected from the inciting event.
– Evidence at some time of edema, changes in skin blood flow, abnormal sudomotor activity in the region of the pain.
– The diagnosis being excluded by the existence of conditions that would otherwise account for the degree of pain and dysfunction.
– Response to a sympathetic nerve block supporting the diagnosis.
– X-rays may show abnormal bone loss or growth in the affected area over time.
– Thermography or bone scans may show temperature or blood flow changes in the painful region.
The goals of treatment are to control pain, improve physical function and prevent disability. Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach including medications, nerve blocks, physical or occupational therapy, psychotherapy and even surgery in some cases.
Living with CRPS
While treatment helps manage symptoms for many, CRPS is considered incurable and can be unpredictable in its severity and progression. Some days pain may wax and wane depending on activity levels and aggravating factors. Simple tasks like getting dressed, showering or household chores can become difficult or impossible without assistance. Emotions like depression, anxiety and frustration are common as individuals struggle to regain independence and cope with changes to their body and lifestyle.
Support from family, friends and mental health professionals can make a huge difference for someone living with CRPS long-term. Peer support groups provide connection and understanding from others living similar experiences. Though it requires courage and perseverance, many individuals are able to effectively self-manage their condition over time through a combination of medical, emotional and lifestyle strategies.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it