Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

This chron­ic con­di­tion, also known as reflex sym­pa­thet­ic dys­tro­phy, is an unex­plained feel­ing of pain and dis­com­fort that most com­mon­ly affects an arm, leg, hand or foot. Often, it begins in the hand or foot and then spreads to affect the entire limb.

The exact cause of com­plex region­al pain syn­drome is not ful­ly under­stood. It may be relat­ed to a vari­ety of caus­es. CRPS com­mon­ly devel­ops after an ill­ness or trau­mat­ic injury to an extrem­i­ty. In some peo­ple, the syn­drome may be linked to an abnor­mal­i­ty of the sym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem. Oth­er cas­es may be relat­ed to an abnor­mal­i­ty of the immune system.

There are two types of CRPS. Type I, also known as Reflex Sym­pa­thet­ic Dys­tro­phy, devel­ops with­out any obvi­ous sign of direct nerve injury. It com­mon­ly devel­ops after tis­sue trau­ma. Type II, which was once called causal­gia, is relat­ed to direct injury of the nerves.

Symp­toms of CRPS may include intense burn­ing or shoot­ing pain, red­ness and swelling of the skin, changes in skin tem­per­a­ture, sweat­ing, increased skin sen­si­tiv­i­ty, mus­cle spasms and restrict­ed range of motion. Nails and hair may grow at an increased rate. As symp­toms progress, hair growth slows and the nails may become brit­tle. The pain may become more severe, and the mus­cles may con­tract and atro­phy. In the final stage of the syn­drome, the entire limb may become engulfed by severe pain. The atro­phy of the mus­cles becomes pro­nounced, the bones soft­en, and the limb may become twist­ed and unusable.

CRPS can be intense­ly painful and it can be dif­fi­cult to treat, espe­cial­ly if it is not diag­nosed ear­ly. Treat­ment options may include hot and cold com­press­es, anti-inflam­ma­to­ry and pain relief med­ica­tions, and phys­i­cal ther­a­py. Nerve block injec­tions and nerve stim­u­la­tion tech­niques may also be effective.