Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

What You Need to Know

Complex regional pain syndrome, also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, is characterized by diffused burning pain in one or more limbs. This typically follows a previous injury, but the symptoms of CRPS/RSD are more severe than the initial injury. The pain is also not restricted to the area surrounding the injury but may spread throughout the limb or even to other limbs. CRPS/RSD can affect individuals of any age or gender, but it is more common in females.

Causes

CRPS/RSD typically develops after an injury such as a bone fracture, sprain, surgery, stroke or other trauma. However, the resulting pain is usually worse than that of the injury and will remain after the injury has been resolved. The reason this occurs in some individuals and not others is not known. It is theorized that pain receptors become more abundant following the injury, which causes pain signals to grow stronger. Over time, it is believed that these amplified signals can cause long-term changes both in the tissue surrounding the injury as well as the peripheral and central nervous systems.

Symptoms

  • Changes in nail or hair growth patterns.
  • Constant burning pain in arms or legs.
  • Discoloration of the skin.
  • Excessive pain in reaction to stimuli, such as touch or vibration.
  • Increased sweating or profound dryness.
  • Movement abnormalities, such as tremor, weakness or muscle spasms.
  • Temperature changes.
  • Swelling.

Treatment for CRPS/RSD typically utilizes several different therapies, including medications, in an attempt to restore function and decrease pain levels.