Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) refers to a chronic condition that affects the nerves and blood vessels of one or more limbs.
There are two types of CRPS:
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
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The cause of CRPS is not known. The condition likely results from several factors. It may involve overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system. This directs automatic body functions that a person cannot control. Inflammation may also play a role in the disorder.
Factors that may increase your risk of CRPS include:
Symptoms usually appear after an injury. The most important symptom of CPRS is prolonged pain that may be constant or severe. There are different types and ranges of pain. Types of pain include burning, throbbing, aching, squeezing, or shooting.
Symptoms of CRPS change over time and may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To diagnose CRPS, the doctor uses four criteria:
Tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions. Your doctor may refer you to a pain specialist for further evaluation and management. Tests may include the following:
Treatment aims to relieve pain and improve function. Early therapy may lead to better outcomes. In some cases, the condition goes away on its own; this is more common in children. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Active and passive exercises help maintain function.
With a technique called mirror box therapy, you place your affected hand or foot in a box, which has a mirror on one side. While moving your limb inside of the box, you move your unaffected limb in front of the mirror. To your brain, it appears that you are moving your painful limb easily and without discomfort. Mirror box therapy may help to reduce pain and improve motor function in people who have CRPS due to stroke.
Your doctor may recommend the following medications:
A surgical procedure called sympathectomy can permanently destroy sympathetic nerves. In some cases however, surgery may worsen symptoms.
Quick mobilization after surgery or injury can help minimize the risk of CRPS in the affected limb. Other steps that might be helpful include:
International Research Foundation for RSD/CRPS
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association
Promoting Awareness of RSD and CRPS in Canada
Complex regional pain syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 24, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.
Harden RN, Bruehl SP. Diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome: signs, symptoms, and new empirically derived diagnostic criteria. Clinical Journal of Pain . 2006;22:415-419.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
. Updated June 26, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.
8/10/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Zollinger PE, Tuinebreijer WE, Breederveld RS, Kreis RW. Can vitamin C prevent complex regional pain syndrome in patients with wrist fractures? A randomized, controlled, multicenter dose-response study. J Bone Joint Surg Am . 2007;89:1424-1431.
11/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.phpDynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Cacchio A, DeBlasis, E, Necozione S, di Orio F, Santilla V. Mirror therapy for chronic complex regional pain syndrome type 1 and stroke. N Engl J Med . 2009;361(6):634-636.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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