Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), is a painful chronic condition that often follows a trauma resulting in damage to nerves or nerve endings. Typically, symptoms include marked sensitivity to touch, a dramatic change in skin color and temperature of the affected limb or body part, intense burning pain, excessive sweating, and otherwise unexplained swelling.
Complex regional pain syndrome can afflict, both men and women of any age, although most experts agree that it is slightly more common in young women.
What are the causes of CRPS/RSD?
Violent, high-speed trauma to an arm or a leg, such as a gunshot wound, fracture or shrapnel blast, is the classical cause of CRPS. Other major and minor traumas — surgery, heart attacks, infections, and even relatively minor strains/sprains — also can occasionally lead to complex regional pain syndrome. It is not well understood why these injuries sometimes trigger complex regional pain syndrome. There is increasing evidence that the amount of adrenalin circulating at the time of injury is an important factor.
What treatment options are available?
Although there is no “cure” for CRPS, once it is well established it may be possible to coax it into long periods of “remission.” Treatment is aimed at relieving painful symptoms so that a person can get back to living a more normal life using the affected body part more fully. Treatment therapies can include the following: oral medications such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, physical therapy with strengthening and desensitization, sympathetic nerve blocks, peripheral nerve and spinal cord stimulation , and intrathecal drug pumps (spinal bupivacaine infusions). Lastly, a lifelong program of daily graded exercise is a vital component of treatment management.