Treating Pain Blog

Pain Management

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

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain conditions with no cure but many treatment options to manage pain symptoms.

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

Common Symptoms and Accurate Diagnosis

Now that you better understand how CRPS develops, next is knowing the signs. Like many pain conditions, symptoms can be similar which makes diagnosis more difficult.

Symptoms of CRPS vary in both severity and length but one thing is for certain – CRPS pain is continuous, intense, and gets worse rather than better over time. If you take away anything from this article, it’s key that you closely monitor your body following a tissue injury (mild or severe) because that is how CRPS begins.

Here are the symptoms to watch for:

    Symptoms of CRPS can spread throughout the entire body and will get progressively more severe overtime.

  • Swelling
  • Intense burning
  • Muscles spasms
  • Loss of motion
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Tenderness and stiffness in joints
  • Extreme sensitivity to even mild stimuli – such as clothing or a light touch
  • Warm, red-looking skin at the injured area initially – changing to cool, bluish-looking skin later

If the pain you’re feeling matches these symptoms, schedule an appointment right away with a board-certified pain management physician to receive an accurate diagnosis.

Because of the chronic, progressive pain caused by CRPS, pain management treatments stand out as the best avenue to keep pain at bay so your quality of life is not greatly affected.

Diagnosing CRPS starts with an office visit to conduct a thorough clinical evaluation that will include complete medical history, analysis of symptoms, and physical examination. Additional testing might be required such as x-rays, MRI and/or CT scan, and electro-diagnosis (EMG). Advanced diagnostic techniques will pinpoint the source of pain and allow the pain doctor to recommend the best, personalized treatment plan for your case.

There’s No Cure – but there are many effective treatments

It may be troubling to first hear that you have been diagnosed with CRPS, feeling that you’re burdened with a condition that has no cure and causes so much pain…but we’re here to tell you that there is hope.

Here’s a list of non-surgical treatment options pain management physicians at National Spine & Pain Centers and our affiliated practices in New York and New Jersey offer:

  • Antineuropathic medication: based on the type and intensity of pain either single or in combination, orally or topical, medical medication is an integral part of managing CRPS pain.
  • Series of epidural injections: when the source of pain has been pinpointed, often times the first line of defense (after oral or topical medication) is corticosteroid injections which not only work to alleviate pain but reduce inflammation at the site … learn more.
  • Stellate ganglion injections: these injections dual as a diagnostic test and pain relief treatment and have been known to be effective in treating pain caused by CRPS symptoms in the arm, neck, head, or face … learn more.
  • Spinal cord stimulation: this implantable device is first used on a trial basis and if relief is found, a permanent device is implanted along the spinal cord for pain caused by damaged nerves … learn more.
  • IT (Intrathecal) drug pump: used by our physicians in Manhattan and New Jersey, an IT pump is an implantable device that administers medication directly into the body without the need of analgesic pills … learn more.
  • Ganglion of impar block: when CRPS pain spreads to the pelvic region of the body, this injection is recommended as an effective treatment to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Neuroma injection: a neuroma is an abnormal cluster of nerves that can develop as a result of nerve related injuries. When CRPS affects the nerves, these clusters can pop up and become inflamed. Neuroma injections reduce the pain with lasting results.

Everyone’s CRPS Pain is Unique

Pain management physicians are more than just doctors – they are problem solvers who understand that each person has a unique journey to pain relief and recovery. CRPS is a complicated condition and manifest itself in many different forms. In any case, treatments are most effective when diagnosis has been made early and our doctors will work with you to find the best treatment plan that fits your specific needs.

If you are suffering from CRPS or think you might have the symptoms of this condition, click the button below to request your appointment. We look forward to helping!

Click Here to Request an Appointment Today


Sources: The Mayo Clinic – Diseases and Conditions and IASP: The International Association for the Study of Pain