Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)


Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), is a chronic, painful, and progressive multi-system condition that affects skin, muscles, joints, nerves, and bones. CRPS usually develops in an injured limb such as a broken arm or leg, or following surgery. However, many cases of CRPS involve only a minor injury, such as a sprain and, in some cases no precipitating event can be identified to trigger RSD.

CPRS may involve a disturbance in the sympathetic nervous system; a network of nerves located alongside the spinal cord. These nerves control certain body functions such as opening and closing blood vessels or sweating (sweat glands). It usually affects the hands and feet.

Types of CRPS/RSD

There are two types of CRPS/RSD that share the same signs and symptoms.

  • Type 1 – without nerve injury
  • Type 2 (formerly called causalgia; a burning pain) – with nerve injury

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (complex regional pain syndrome) and treatment can help reduce or prevent permanent damage. Reflex sympathetic dystrophy treatments may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Lumbar Sympathetic Block
  • Stellate Ganglion Block
  • Medications: alpha-blocking drugs, calcium channel blockers, local anesthetic blockers
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation

The principal treatment for RSD/CRPS is physical therapy. The problem is the joint or limb may be so painful that activity is limited. Further, immobilization and guarding of the limb aggravates the condition. Our approach is to administer aggressive pain control early to maximize the use of the extremity. If diagnosed early and treated aggressively, most patients improve.

To Learn More

If you are interested in an evaluation and treatment of your complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) / reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), please contact our pain management experts at the California Spine and Pain Institute. We would be happy to make an appointment for a consultation and provide additional information about other treatment options.

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