Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) / Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)

Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. CRPS is a chronic pain disorder that occurs when an injury to a muscle, bone, or nerve does not follow the normal healing path.

When an injury occurs, the injury initiates a pain impulse that is carried to the brain. That pain impulse in turn triggers an impulse in the nervous system that returns to the original site of the injury. The impulse from the nervous system causes the blood vessels to spasm, which leads to swelling and increased pain at the site of the injury. The increased pain sends another impulse back to the brain, and the cycle begins all over again.

In CRPS, this cycle never shuts off.

CRPS does not depend on the severity of the injury; and often, the pain that is experienced is not in proportion to the injury. CRPS usually affects an arm or leg, or any part of an arm or leg. CRPS can be caused by something as serious as a broken bone or something as seemingly insignificant as a twisted ankle.

The symptoms of CRPS can include severe pain, that is often described as burning pain; pain to even light touch; swelling; stiffness and limited mobility of the affected area; and changes in skin color, texture, and temperature. The skin may appear pale, purple, red, or blotchy, and it may also appear thin and shiny. Additionally, the affected arm or leg may feel warmer or cooler than the other.

As time progresses, the pain and other symptoms of CRPS may spread to other extremities. In mild cases, CRPS may last for weeks, but in many cases the pain may continue for years or even indefinitely. Although, some individuals experience periods of remission alternating with aggravation of the symptoms.

Emotional distress resulting from chronic pain is also a factor that cannot be overlooked.

Treatment for CRPS involves multiple approaches. In addition to pain medications and medication to treat nerve-related pain, rehabilitation is very important. Rehabilitation includes stretching, mobilization, and strengthening exercises; electrical nerve stimulation (a TENS unit); and desensitization (such as rubbing the affected area with a rough surface). Nerve blocks, which are injections of local anesthetics to various parts of the body; surgical or chemical destruction of a specific nerve; and implantation of a pump that sends pain medication to the spinal fluid are also methods of managing CRPS. Psychological support should be included in the treatment of CRPS.

For more information on CRPS, you can go to the following websites:

The preceding is not legal or medical advice and does not take the place of a professional consultation with a trained lawyer or physician. If you think you have been hurt, please seek a medical attention. If you think you might need the help of an attorney, please contact a qualified professional like those at Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured.

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