Have questions or need help? Call Us Now

What is

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, is a neurological condition that causes pain and other symptoms in the hand, arm, leg, and foot. The condition is rare, affecting about 200,000 Americans every year. Similar to other chronic pain conditions, there is no known cure for complex regional pain syndrome, but there are ways to manage the pain.

What causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

In 90% of cases, CRPS occurs after trauma or injury, though it can appear without explanation. Why complex regional pain syndrome occurs in some people is unknown, but experts believe it to be the result of dysfunction within the central or peripheral nervous system.

There are two types of CRPS:

  • Type 1: Occurs without any nerve damage, and usually follows an illness or injury that did not directly damage the nerve. Also called sympathetic dystrophy
  • Type 2: The result of specific nerve damage. Also called causalgia

Both types of complex regional pain syndrome can be acute, lasting a few days or weeks, or chronic. CRPS is more common in adults over the age of 40 and affects women more than men. 

There are no specific tests to diagnose CRPS. Identifying and diagnosing CRPS is usually done during a physical exam: medical staff will ask questions about pain and compare answers to the signs and signals of CRPS. Bone scans and tests to measure differences in skin temperature, blood flow, and sweating can help provide clues, but won’t be able to tell the whole story. 

Symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

The most common and notable syndrome of CRPS is pain. The pain can be constant or intermittent and can be acute or chronic. Sensory changes are another common symptom and may include increased sensitivity to both painful stimuli, like a pinch, and non-painful stimuli, like simply touching the skin. 

Other symptoms include: 

  • Swelling in the area of the affected limb
  • Decreased function and increased stiffness in the affected limb
  • Changes in skin temperature: skin on the affected extremity feels colder or warmer than its counterpart
  • Changes in skin color: the skin can appear pale, purple, or blotchy
  • Changes in skin texture: the skin can appear shiny, thin, or sweaty

In some cases, pain and other symptoms disappear on their own, but in other cases, symptoms may worsen. If left untreated, pain and symptoms heighten, and it may become difficult to move the affected limb. This lack of movement may cause muscles and tendons to atrophy and contract. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider at the first signs of symptoms to avoid any permanent damage. 

Treating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Treatment for complex regional pain syndrome focuses on relieving the pain and symptoms and slowing the process of the disease. The most important part of treatment is helping people cope with the pain and continue to lead healthy and happy lives. With CRPS, using multiple treatment options often yields the best results. 

Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, eating healthier (more greens, whole grains, and whole foods), and getting adequate sleep can go a long way. Walking, biking, swimming, and other low-impact activities can help improve the circulation of the damaged nerves.

Those who suffer intense pain and discomfort may find that more invasive treatments work better for them. Medical procedures for complex regional pain syndrome may include trigger point injections, nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulation, and peripheral nerve stimulation. 

Finding Help with the Pain Institute of Middle Tennessee

Finding the right treatment options for complex regional pain syndrome is imperative for improving limb function and maintaining a healthy, happy life. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing pain and symptoms resulting from CRPS, request an appointment with one of our physicians today.