New on the MedlinePlus Complex Regional Pain Syndrome page:
01/24/2013 10:21 AM EST
Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy)
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a condition of intense burning pain, stiffness, swelling, and discoloration that most often affects the hand. Arms, legs, and feet can also be affected by CRPS.
This condition was previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, Sudeck's atrophy, shoulder-hand syndrome, or causalgia.
- Type 1 occurs after an illness or injury that did not directly damage a nerve in the affected area
- Type 2 follows a distinct nerve injury
Stage I: Acute
Stage I may last up to 3 months. Burning pain and increased sensitivity to touch are the most common early symptom of CRPS. This pain is different — more constant and longer lasting — than would be expected with a given injury. Swelling and joint stiffness usually follow, along with increased warmth and redness in the affected limb. There may be faster-than-normal nail and hair growth and excessive sweating.
Acute stage CRPS, 2 months after injury
Stage II: Dystrophic
Stage II can last 3 to 12 months. Swelling is more constant and skin wrinkles disappear. Skin temperature becomes cooler. Fingernails become brittle. Pain is more widespread, stiffness increases, and the affected area becomes more sensitive to touch.
Stage III: Atrophic
Stage III occurs after 1 year. The skin of the affected area becomes pale, dry, tightly stretched, and shiny. The area is stiff and there is less hope of getting motion back. Pain may decrease and the condition may spread to other areas of the body.
Symptoms most commonly occur after injury or surgery. Other causes include pressure on a nerve, infection, cancer, neck problems, stroke, or heart attack.
People with CRPS are unusually protective of the involved limb. Even a light touch may evoke expressions of severe pain.
It is also important that these patients not be told that the pain is "in their heads." CRPS is a physiological condition. Even though it is not fully understood, CRPS is treatable.
After 6 months of treatment, this patient's hands have regained normal color and are no longer swollen.
Medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral corticosteroids, anti-depressants, blood pressure medications, anti-convulsants, and opioid analgesics are medications recommended to relieve symptoms.Injection therapy. Injecting an anesthetic (numbing medicine) near the affected sympathetic nerves can reduce symptoms. This is usually recommended early in the course of CRPS in order to avoid progression to the later stages.
Biofeedback. Increased body awareness and relaxation techniques may help with pain relief.
Therapy. Active exercise that emphasizes normal use of the affected limb is essential to permanent relief of this condition. Physical and/or occupational therapy are important in helping patients regain normal use patterns. Medications and other treatment options can reduce pain, allowing the patient to engage in active exercise.
If nonsurgical treatment fails, there are surgical procedures that may help reduce symptoms.Spinal cord stimulator. Tiny electrodes are implanted along your spine and deliver mild electric impulses to the affected nerves.
Pain pump implantation. A small device that delivers pain medication to the spinal cord is implanted near the abdomen.
Results from surgical procedures may be disappointing. Many patients with chronic CRPS symptoms benefit from psychological evaluation and counseling.