What Is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
Also known as CRPS, complex regional pain syndrome is a condition that causes acute, chronic pain. The pain typically presents in the extremities: arms, legs, hands and feet.
- It is hard to pinpoint a universal cause, but CRPS can often result from nerve or tissue damage after an injury.
- Some people with similar injuries or trauma to those who develop CRPS, do not develop it themselves, which is why it can be difficult to pinpoint a cause
What Are Symptoms of CRPS?
Since CRPS is a syndrome, there is no one set of symptoms to indicate if you have CRPS or not. Of the potential symptoms, it is rare for someone to have all of them, but it is helpful to know what to look out for. Here are a few typical symptoms.
- Sudden, unexpected pain with no obvious cause (may be constant or in flux)
- Weak muscles and impaired movement
- Joint stiffness on the injured appendage
- Skin texture changes (may become thin and shiny or scaly and thick)
- Prolonged pain or excessive pain after using or touching the affected area
What Treatment Exists for CRPS?
While many people suffering from CRPS recover without treatment, is important to start treatment as early as possible. This increases the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment. Some treatments include:
- Psychological therapy (CRPS can agitate psychological problems)
- Physical Therapy and Rehab to help blood flow and flexibility in the affected area
- Graded Motor Imagery (a mental exercise intended to re-train the brain)
- Medications, such as (but not limited to):
- Botox injections
- Opioids (for the most severe pain)
It should be noted that there is no current cure for CRPS, and symptoms can worsen over time. These treatments are designed to lessen the overall impact on the body, beginning with decreasing the pain.
What Causes CRPS?
While CRPS is most certainly caused by nerve damage, the exact elements that must align in order for these symptoms to present themselves cannot be determined. What can be analyzed are the types of injuries that have been known to precede a CRPS diagnosis. Some of these include:
- Cuts, penetrations, or burns
- An immobilized limb (due to the pressure from a cast or other outside force)
- Surgery (either from the surgery itself or from scars that result)
- Fractures, Sprains and Strains
In very rare cases (less than 10%), those diagnosed with CRPS experienced no injury. It is assumed that this is usually due to some other internal issue, which could also be a latent effect from a previous trauma, such as surgery or clots.
CRPS cannot be diagnosed with a specific test. This makes overall diagnosis different, and depends on your doctor. Your doctor will analyze the symptoms you have and will make a determination based on their observations. You may also need to speak with more than one type of doctor, such as an orthopedist, a neurologist, or a plastic surgeon. It is always recommended to acquire your diagnosis early to increase your chances of successful treatment.