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Understanding Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): How It’s Diagnosed & Effective Treatment Options

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) has multiple names. It’s also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) or causalgia, each of which have the same meaning – it’s a chronic pain condition without a cure. In this article, we’ll refer to the disease as CRPS and with the help of some of the nation’s leading experts in CRPS, our goal is to empower patients who have been diagnosed with this debilitating condition with knowledge and understanding of symptoms and available treatment options.

How and Why CRPS Develops

CRPS occurs as a result of a negative response to a tissue-related injury. Though Mayo Clinic refers to CRPS as an “uncommon form of chronic pain,” the reasons why it develops (much like its name) are complex.

In most cases, CRPS develops following an injury or surgery. What needs to be understood is that the pain caused by CRPS is not proportional to the injury that caused the condition. For example, CRPS can develop from minor injuries such as a sprain or damaged nerve.

Furthermore, CRPS has a proclivity to worsen overtime – so if pain arises in the arms or legs and gets progressively more severe with swelling, changes in the skin, and becomes widespread throughout the body, consult a pain management physician immediately because treatment for CRPS is most effective when started early.

Who is Most Likely to Have the Condition?

CRPS most often occurs in adults between the ages of 20 – 40 and is predominantly seen more in women than men. The International Association for the Study of Pain has divided CRPS into two different types – they are:

  • Type 1: formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) which does not exhibit demonstrable nerve damage
  • Type 2: formerly known as causalgia, type 2 has evidence of obvious nerve damage and is significantly more painful than type 1 and tends to be more difficult to control pain