Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic neuro-inflammatory disorder that typically affects one specific limb after an injury, believed to be caused by damage to the nervous system. The pain is usually out of proportion when compared to the initial injury. Often, the initial energy is a musculoskeletal or nerve injury. CRPS is uncommon and still not completely understood by science, but treatment can be effective when started early on. As many as 200,000 individuals experience this condition in the United States every year. Research has proven time and time again that although CRPS is a physical disorder, it has not been unheard of for medical professionals to suggest that patients with CRPS are exaggerating their pain for psychological reasons.
What are the symptoms of CRPS?The most consistent symptom is constant, severe pain, often described as a burning or “pins and needles” sensation throughout the affected limb. In some cases, the pain has been known to spread across the entire limb, even if the initial injury only affected a finger or a toe. The affected area may experience allodynia, which means that normal contact with the skin can be very painful. Other symptoms may include:
- Sensitivity to cold
- Swelling of the affected area
- Changes in skin temperature, color, or texture
- Joint swelling or stiffness
- Muscle spasms or tremors
What are the causes of CRPS?While the exact causes are still not entirely understood, in more than 90 percent of cases of CRPS the condition is triggered by a history of trauma or injury. These triggers include fractures, sprains, soft tissue injury, limb immobilization, surgery, or sometimes even a minor medical procedure such as a needle stick.
What are the different types of CRPS?
- Type 1/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) After an injury or illness where there is no underlying nerve injury. Around 90 percent of the people with CRPS have this type.
- Type 2/Causalgia This follows a specific nerve injury, unlike Type 1.
What are the complications of CRPS?It is very important to get CRPS diagnosed early and begin treatment as soon as possible. If left untreated, CRPS may progress to more disabling symptoms, including:
- Atrophy (Tissue Weakening) – Your bones, muscles, and skin will eventually deteriorate if you have difficulty moving a limb because of stiffness caused by CRPS.
- Contracture (Muscle Tightening) – Your muscles may tighten, potentially leading to a condition where your extremities (hands/fingers, feet/toes) contract into a fixed position.
How can I prevent CRPS?There are some lifestyle changes and actions you can take at home to reduce the risk of developing CRPS.
- Take a daily minimum dose of 500 milligrams (mg) of Vitamin C after a wrist fracture.
- Get mobilized early after a stroke.
How is CRPS diagnosed?There is currently no set test or method that can confirm whether a patient has CRPS or not. Diagnosis instead is based entirely on medical history and symptoms. Because there are many other conditions with similar symptoms, careful examination by a trusted healthcare professional is very important. The following procedures may help narrow down whether a patient does or does not have CRPS:
- Bone scans/X-rays
- Sympathetic nervous system tests
What new treatments are available?
- IV Ketamine Infusions. Some studies show that intravenous Ketamine infusion can relieve pain and help reset and restore important nerve connections.