Spine & Orthopedic Pain Centers

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a form of chronic pain that usually affects an arm, foot, or a leg, but can affect any group of nerves, muscles, and tissues especially if there has been trauma or surgery. It used to be called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RDS) and typically develops after an injury, a surgery, a stroke or a heart attack, probably due to scarring and chronic nerve firings and chronic pain. The pain is out of proportion to the severity of the initial injury.

There are two types. Type I where the nerve affected is not clearly identified and Type II where the exact nerve is known and is called causalgia.

Signs and symptoms of CRPS include:

  • Continuous burning or throbbing pain, usually in your arm, leg, hand or foot
  • Sensitivity to touch or cold
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Changes in skin temperature — alternating between sweaty and cold
  • Changes in skin color, ranging from white and blotchy to red or blue
  • Changes in skin texture, which may become tender, thin or shiny in the affected area
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Joint stiffness, swelling and damage
  • Muscle spasms, tremors, weakness and loss (atrophy)
  • Decreased ability to move the affected body part

Symptoms may change over time and vary from person to person. Pain, swelling, redness, noticeable changes in temperature and hypersensitivity (particularly to cold and touch) usually occur first.

Over time, the affected limb can become cold and pale. It may undergo skin and nail changes as well as muscle spasms and tightening. Once these changes occur, the condition is often irreversible. CRPS occasionally may spread from its source to elsewhere in your body, such as the opposite limb.

Consult with a pain management doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

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