Everything About CRPS


Posted on: 13 March 2020 by Luke Write

Some terms that described it are reflex sympathetic dystrophy, shoulder-hand syndrome, Sudeck's atrophy, or causalgia.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a complicated condition. It's often characterized by a massive burning pain, long periods of stiffness, discoloration, and swelling. The hands are mostly affected by this condition. However, this does not mean it doesn't affect other parts. At times it may affect legs, arms, and feet.

Earlier, people knew this condition differently. Some terms that described it are reflex sympathetic dystrophy, shoulder-hand syndrome, Sudeck's atrophy, or causalgia.


Though CRPS, could affect various parts of the body, there are two types of this condition:

The first one is, as a result of an indirect impact on a nerve by a previous injury or illness.

The second one is a result of clear-cut nerve damage or injury.

Read more about complex regional pain syndrome type 1.

Though the causes are different, both types of CRPS are accompanied by similar symptoms. Again, they occur in the same three stages. Nothing happens differently.

1st Stage: Acute

The acute stage may take quite some time. It may last for up to 3 months. The symptoms experienced during the early stages of CRPS include sharp burning pain. Another is high sensitivity to any kind of touch. The pain here hits differently. It's constant and takes a while to disappear. This is uncommon to any form of injury. With time, one starts to swell and experience stiffness. The affected limb feels warmer and begins to redden. Hair and nail growth may happen quite abnormally - fastens. Lots of sweating follows too.

2nd Stage: Dystrophic

The second stage may last for between 3 to 12 months. The swelling gets severe. It's more constant here and skin wrinkles are no more. The skin tends to be a bit cooler. For the fingernails, they become easily breakable. Pains are felt widely and the stiffness is more. Touching affected areas could be messy. At this point, they get more sensitive to touch.

3rd Stage: Atrophic

The third stage sets in after a year. The skin of the affected area changes completely. It turns pale, dry, shiny and gets tightly stretched. The stiffness is usually terrific and motion is almost impossible. The pain may reduce, however it spreads to other body areas.


Though the occurrence of CRPS revolves around injury and illness, the specific cause of CRPS remains a mystery. A major perception is that a "short circuit" within the nervous system is a factor. The "short circuit" causes an instant trigger on the nervous system that touches on the blood flow in the affected part. Similarly, the sweat glands of the affected area are tampered with.

In most cases, the symptoms appear after injury or surgery. Some other though uncommon causes include strain on a nerve, an infection, cancer, issues on the neck, or heart attacks.

The Summit

Examination by a Physician

First, your doctor will want to get helpful information on your medical history and maybe previous complications. From here, the doctor will examine the affected part. It could be the hand or limb.

Victims of CRPS have high sensitivity to affected limbs. A slight touch may leave them erupting to feeling pain.

What about the tests?

In trying to diagnose for CRPS multiple tests are useless. Diagnosis is impossible through tests. However, some precise imaging, such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and bone scan may prove helpful. The doctor could make a diagnosis through them.

The Treatment

To avoid the spread and complication of CRPS, early diagnosis, and treatment matters.

Again the patients require some psychological help. To be precise, CRPS is a physiological condition. Though not much is known about the condition, it's treatable.

Hands appear normal once treatment for CRPS is done

After 6 months of treatment, an improvement in the patient's hands is seen. The swelling disappears and the paleness as well. The normal color gets back.

Nonsurgical Treatment

The Medications: Apart from surgery some drugs may be used to reduce CRPS symptoms. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anti-depressants, oral corticosteroids, opioid analgesics, anti-convulsants, and blood pressure medications are suitable solutions.

An injection therapy: Anesthetic may be injected around the affected part to relieve symptoms. For better results, this should be done early. It prevents the worsening of the condition as it could progress to other stages.

Biofeedback - Body awareness plus a few tips on how to relax are also vital in relieving the pain.

Therapy - Some exercise boosts the healing process as well. The patient should try and use the affected limb normally. Physical and occupational therapies boost recovery a great deal. All these are helpful since medications could trigger other pains and cause various effects.

Surgical Treatment

Once the nonsurgical procedures prove futile, surgery may be the solution to kill the symptoms.

Spinal cord stimulator. Very small electrodes are placed along the patient's spine. They produce mild electric impulses on the affected nerves.

Pain pump implantation. This technique involves using a tiny device on the spinal cord. It is placed very close to the abdomen.

In some cases, surgical procedures do not work. A lot of patients suffering from CRPS symptoms mostly thrive through psychological help and counselling.

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