Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) — formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) — is a rare and poorly understood chronic pain condition. Because it’s not widely seen and studied, it’s often misdiagnosed by doctors, causing patients to receive the wrong treatment or no treatment at all. Keep reading to learn more about the condition, symptoms of CRPS, treatment options, and outlook.
An Introduction to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
CRPS is a chronic pain condition that typically affects an arm, leg, hand or foot. In the majority of cases, it develops after an injury that damages an arm or leg, like a direct blow, a fracture, a strain or sprain, a burn, or a surgical procedure. CRPS can cause intense and worsening pain that’s out of proportion to the initial injury, as well as changes in skin color, temperature and texture.
CRPS is a neuro-inflammatory condition. Scientists believe it occurs due to dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous systems after an injury. The central nervous system contains the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system sends messages and sensations from the central nervous system to the rest of the body (arms, legs, hands, feet and organs). When peripheral nerve fibers in the extremities are damaged or injured, abnormal nerve functioning causes an overreaction to pain signals. Nerve dysfunction can also cause an inflammatory response at the site of injury.
CRPS can disrupt the normal healing response after an injury. Elevated inflammatory markers can cause swelling, redness and warmth around the site of the injury. Additionally, damage to the nerve fibers can disrupt normal circulation, denying nerves and tissues the blood, oxygen and nutrients they need to heal.
CRPS is incredibly difficult to identify, diagnose and treat. The causes of CRPS — and why some people develop it while others don’t — is poorly understood. In many cases, doctors aren’t able to find the exact nerve that was injured. With treatment, CRPS usually resolves within a few months. However, some people suffer for months or years with debilitating symptoms. The condition can affect anyone at any age, although it typically affects more women than men.
Signs and Symptoms of CRPS
CRPS typically affects an arm, leg, hand or foot. Symptoms vary from person to person, and you may experience one or more of the following in the affected limb:
- A continuous burning or “pins and needles” pain
- Hypersensitivity to light touch or cold that produces intense pain
- Changes in skin color, becoming blotchy, red, purple, blue or pale
- Changes in skin temperature, becoming warmer or cooler than other limbs
- Changes in skin texture, becoming thin or shiny
- Rapid nail and hair growth or no growth at all
- Excessive sweating or no sweat at all
- Joint stiffness and swelling
- Decreased ability to move the affected limb
In most cases, CRPS only affects one limb, but in some cases pain and symptoms are mirrored on the opposite limb as well. Additionally, early symptoms of CRPS might only affect one area of the limb, but spread farther up the limb as the condition progresses.
As CRPS progresses, the affected limb may become increasingly cold and pale. The skin, bones and muscles will weaken and deteriorate from lack of use. Some people develop painful contractures, where muscles in the hands, fingers, feet or toes tighten into a fixed position.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor as soon as possible. You have a better chance of recovery if CRPS is identified, diagnosed and treated early.
There is no cure for CRPS. With early and aggressive action, treatment can reduce pain and symptoms and restore normal function to the affected limb. If treatment is delayed, the affected limb is more likely to develop progressive pain, stiffness, loss of movement and muscle tightening. Advanced cases are extremely difficult to treat. In some cases, early and mild symptoms may resolve on their own. However, many people live with painful symptoms for months or years.
Every treatment plan for CRPS is different. Your doctor will work with you to develop a personalized care plan using a combination of treatment options. First-line treatments may include:
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Mirror therapy
Some people also find pain relief using alternative therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic care, biofeedback, TENS, heat and cold therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. In cases where first-line treatments aren’t effective, more invasive treatment options include:
- Nerve blocks
- Intrathecal drug pumps
- Spinal cord stimulation
As stated above, early and aggressive treatment can cause symptoms to resolve within a few months. However, CRPS is a complex and poorly understood condition. Not everyone responds well to treatment and some people live with severe chronic pain and symptoms for months or years. In rare cases where the condition is irreversible, some people even undergo amputation of an arm or leg to reduce pain.
When traditional treatment methods aren’t effective, non-invasive, drug-free scrambler therapy may be able to help. Scrambler therapy is safe, has no harmful side effects and provides long-term relief for patients living with debilitating chronic pain. The therapy uses electrostimulation to send “non-pain” messages to the brain over painful nerve fibers. Over several treatment sessions, scrambler therapy retrains the brain to accept non-pain information as the correct message. Most patients receive 9-10 sessions over the course of two weeks.
Contact Radiant Pain Relief Centres to Find Lasting Chronic Pain Relief
At Radiant Pain Relief Centres, we exclusively use scrambler therapy to treat chronic pain conditions like CRPS. Our specially trained techs offer a level of expertise and knowledge you won’t be able to find anywhere else. On average, our patients experience an 84% reduction in pain, and more than 90% of our patients conclude therapy with a pain score of zero or near zero.
We have a start-to-finish comprehensive care model and payment plans that make scrambler therapy accessible and affordable for everyone with chronic pain. We offer a free evaluation and free scrambler therapy session so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not this treatment is right for you before you invest.
It’s time to regain the quality of life you deserve. Please call us today or submit a contact form for more information.