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What Most Don't Understand About Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Jun 01, 2023
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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a complex and debilitating disorder that's often misunderstood. Knowing the causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help demystify this challenging condition.

Living with chronic pain can significantly affect your quality of life. One condition that illustrates this is complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). 

Also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), CRPS is a multifaceted disorder that affects your nervous system, causing intense and persistent pain, primarily in your arms and legs. 

CRPS is a rare disorder affecting less than 200,000 people per year. It remains relatively unknown, often leaving those affected feeling misunderstood and isolated. 

Sathya Bhandari, MD, and our team at Liberty Pain Associates in Flower Mound, Alliance/Keller, and Fort Worth, Texas, are dedicated to supporting people living with chronic pain conditions like CRPS.

In this article, we break down the causes, symptoms, diagnostic challenges, and treatment approaches for CRPS. 

Understanding complex regional pain syndrome

If you have been suffering from chronic pain that started after an injury, surgery, or trauma, you may be experiencing complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). 

This condition is marked by intense, persistent pain that can spread beyond the original injury area. You may also experience sensory, autonomic, and motor abnormalities alongside the pain, which can cause significant physical and emotional distress.

What are the symptoms of CRPS?

Identifying the symptoms of CRPS can be challenging, as they can vary from person to person. The most common signs include: 

  • Persistent, severe pain that may feel like burning, throbbing, or shooting
  • Increased sensitivity to touch or temperature changes
  • Changes in skin color, appearing blotchy, red, purple, or pale
  • Noticeable differences in skin temperature, feeling excessively warm or cool
  • Swelling and stiffness in the affected area
  • Weakness, tremors, or muscle spasms
  • Difficulty moving or limited range of motion
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Emotional challenges like anxiety, depression, or mood changes

Awareness of these symptoms is essential for early detection and timely intervention, promoting improved outcomes for people living with CRPS.

What causes CRPS?

The exact cause of CRPS is still not fully understood, but it often develops after an injury, surgery, or trauma. When your body goes through something traumatic, like a fracture, in most cases, the injury heals over time, and the pain gradually subsides. 

However, in some people, the nervous system goes haywire, sending exaggerated pain signals long after the initial injury has healed. It's like a glitch in the system, and this malfunction can lead to CRPS. 

Other factors, such as abnormal inflammation and changes in blood flow, also play a role. Interestingly, emotions can have an impact too. Stress and anxiety can aggravate the symptoms and make them even more challenging to manage. 

How is CRPS diagnosed?

Diagnosing CRPS may be difficult because there are no specific tests available. We typically rely on a combination of medical history, physical examination, and the exclusion of other possible causes to make an accurate diagnosis. 

Providing us with a clear and detailed description of your symptoms helps us successfully diagnose and manage CRPS. 

How is CRPS treated?

To effectively treat CRPS, a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach is required that takes into account both the physical and psychological aspects of the condition.

The treatment plan may involve using medication to relieve pain, physical therapy to improve physical function, nerve blocks to target specific symptoms and other complementary therapies like biofeedback.

Complex regional pain syndrome is a condition that demands greater awareness and understanding. At Liberty Pain Associates, we are committed to providing compassionate care and reliable information to people living with CRPS. 

To learn more about the most suitable treatment options for you, schedule an appointment with us today or call 972-355-9038.