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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that is commonly localized to one arm or one leg. Onset can be precipitated by a stroke, an injury, a heart attack, or surgery, and in general, it is observed that the pain goes well beyond what would be typical for the injury.

If symptoms of CRPS are identified, it is vital to begin treatment immediately as this is when it will be most effective, leading to marked improvement and even remission in many cases.

Characteristics of CRPS

The symptoms of CRPS are different for each individual and may change over time. Pain and swelling are common, accompanied by redness, and extreme hypersensitivity to cold and any type of contact are usually observed at the outset.

In time, the affected area may become cold to the touch and pale in appearance. Skin and nail changes are common. Muscle spasms, should they accompany these symptoms, is often a sign that the condition is irreversible. There is also a danger that it may spread to another limb, such as the opposite leg or arm.

Types of CRPS

There are two types of CRPS. The distinction between the two isn’t in the way it presents, but in the causal factors that led to the onset.

Type I is commonly observed following an injury or an illness that had no connection to the pain or nerves in the affected area. Also referred to as RSDS, or reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, Type I accounts for nine out of ten cases of CRPS.

Type II is connected to a specific nerve injury resulting from trauma or surgery.

It is not known why CRPS affects some people and not others. Not all people who have a heart attack, a stroke, or a traumatic injury will experience CRPS. Though the mechanism of the condition is not well understood, it is thought that there is dysfunction between your nervous system (CNS) and your body’s inflammatory responses.

When to seek treatment for CRPS

Though symptoms may resolve on their own, in some individuals, they can persist for months or even years. The best hope for a complete recovery is to seek treatment as soon as symptoms are observed.

If you are experiencing constant, intense pain in one or more limbs, if touching or moving the arm or leg is more than you can bear, see a doctor immediately. The sooner you are diagnosed and able to access treatment, the better the chance of a complete recovery.

CRPS treatments

No one CRPS treatment works for everyone. A program that combines physical therapy and rehabilitation, psychotherapy, and medications to treat symptoms should be tailored to the needs of the individual.

Drugs that are commonly used to treat nerve pain have brought relief to some patients. These include gabapentin, amitriptyline, duloxetine, and nortriptyline are sometimes prescribed. Other medications, such as corticosteroids and opioids, should be taken with care due to the potential for long-term severe side-effects and/or addiction.

If you are experiencing excessive pain and suspect that you may be suffering from CRPS, we can help. Reach out today to find out how to get started.