Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Definition:
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic condition that causes severe, debilitating pain in a limb, like an arm or leg. While the cause of CRPS is relatively unknown, the condition typically develops in patients who’ve suffered a traumatic injury, undergone surgery, or had a heart attack or stroke. Whatever the cause, complex regional pain syndrome is often characterized by pain that is out of proportion with the severity of the initial injury. If caught early, the improvement of symptoms and going into remission are possible. Patients will need to have their medical history and current symptoms evaluated by a pain specialist before a diagnosis of CRPS can be made.

Causes:
Currently, there are no known causes of complex regional pain syndrome. Regardless, there are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition. Over the last several years, researchers have determined major traumas to the arms or legs, such as a crush injury, severe fracture, amputation, or surgery, can result in CRPS. A heart attack, stroke, infection, or sprained ankle may also increase a person’s risk of developing this condition. Complex regional pain syndrome manifests two different ways with similar symptoms but different causes. CRPS Type 1 usually develops after an illness or injury that didn’t directly damage the affected limb. CRPS Type 2 develops from a distinct nerve injury.

Symptoms:
Symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome may vary in location and intensity. Nevertheless, patients could experience the following: a burning pain in the affected hand, arm, leg, or foot; changes in skin temperature, texture, and color; increased sensitivity to cold temperatures and touch; swelling, muscle spasms, joint stiffness, and muscle atrophy of the affected limb; changes in hair and nail growth; and decreased mobility of the affected limb. In its later stages, complex regional pain syndrome may spread to other parts of the body and worsen from emotional stress. A TriState Pain Institute physician should evaluate pain that is considered constant and intolerable.

Treatments:
At TriState Pain Institute, patients often benefit most from a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. Various medications and therapies may be recommended to mitigate symptoms associated with complex regional pain syndrome. Over-the-counter pain relievers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, corticosteroid injections, topical analgesics, physical therapy, TENS/PENS units, spinal cord stimulation, and more, may help reduce CRPS symptoms. 

 

See all conditions

Get tips on managing pain in the latest edition of Pain News

Download