Understanding Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

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Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is an uncommon form of chronic pain that typically affects a single limb. CRPS is often associated with a traumatic injury, stroke, heart attack, or previous surgery that was meant to correct another condition. The pain associated with CRPS is unique because it is out of proportion, which can make it difficult to diagnose since there are often contributing factors associated with it.
Diagnosing Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
The diagnosis of CRPS typically involves determining the underlying cause of the pain since CRPS itself is not a condition, but a set of pain symptoms. Image testing may be performed to eliminate certain causes, such as joint or disc issues. The process of diagnosing CRPS is likely to involve:
• An evaluation of your medical history
• A review of your medications
• A description of your symptoms
Symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
CRPS can be experienced in different ways by each person with the condition. Such pain is often localized to a specific area, which may also include one hand, a foot, or an area where surgery was performed. Symptoms may spread, possibly to an opposite limb or adjacent part of the body, from the original source of the pain or change over time from mild to more severe. Emotional stress or anxiety can make symptoms worse. Signs of CRPS may include:
• Sensitivity to touch
• Swelling in the area where pain is felt
• Ongoing burning or throbbing sensations
• Changes in skin temperature
• Joint swelling or stiffness
• Muscle spasms or weakness

When to Seek Treatment for CRPS

If pain associated with CRPS is severe and affects movement, which is often the case if a single limb is affected, it’s time to seek treatment. Initial signs of unusual pain shouldn’t be overlooked or discounted, especially if you’ve recently had surgery or you’ve recently suffered a stroke.
Treating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
There are instances of people enjoying a complete recovery or effectively managing their discomfort from CRPS with little or no treatment. If CRPS lingers or becomes progressively worse, however, treatment options often include:
• Prescription pain medications
• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
• Nerve blocks
• Physical therapy
• Application of heat or ice
The cause of CRPS isn’t fully understood. The affected limb or limbs may undergo changes in color and become increasingly sensitive to touch or temperature over time. If such changes occur, CRPS is usually irreversible at that point. For this reason, early treatment is encouraged.