What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that can affect any area of the body, but often affects an arm or a leg. CRPS is believed to be the result of a dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous systems. It typically develops after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack, but the pain is generally out of proportion to the severity of the initiating event.

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Causes & Risk Factors

  • Complex regional pain syndrome is most common in people ages 20-35.
  • Complex regional pain syndrome does not have a single cause but results from multiple causes that produce similar symptoms.
  • One theory is that Complex regional pain syndrome is a result of damage to the nervous system, including the nerves that control the blood vessels and sweat glands.
  • Complex regional pain syndrome symptoms can be heightened by emotional stress.

Symptoms

Complex regional pain syndrome symptoms may change over time and vary from person to person.

The primary symptom of complex regional pain syndrome is pain that is intense and burning and is much stronger than would be expected for the type of injury that occurred; gets worse rather than better over time; and begins at the point of injury but often spreads to the whole limb or the arm or leg on the other side of the body.

Other symptoms of CRPS include:

  • Continuous burning or throbbing pain
  • Sensitivity to touch or cold
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Changes in skin temperature
  • Changes in skin color, which can range from white and mottled to red or blue
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Joint stiffness, swelling and damage
  • Muscle spasms, muscle weakness and muscle loss
  • Decreased ability to move the affected body part

Diagnosis

Diagnosing CRPS can be difficult, but early diagnosis is very important. Diagnosis is generally based on a physical exam and medical history. There are also tests that can help in the diagnostic process, including a bone scan, MRI or X-ray to detect bone and tissue changes, sympathetic nervous system tests to measure skin temperature and blood flow to limbs, and nerve conduction tests.

Treatment Options

At PMIR Medical Center, we understand that pain is a complex condition that affects the whole person—body, mind and spirit. We provide a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treatment, customizing the most effective treatment plans for our patients and empowering them to become a collaborative partner in their recovery process.

Improvement and even remission of CRPS is possible if treatment is begun within a few months of the onset of symptoms. We offer complex regional pain syndrome treatment options that include:

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