Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Definition and Symptoms

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), previously known as algodystrophy, is a chronic condition characterized by excruciating pain that is mostly felt in the limbs and is divided into two types: CRPS I and CRPS II.

  • Skin discoloration
  • Persistent pain that lasts for three or more months and often has a throbbing or burning sensation
  • Increased sensitivity to cold or pressure
  • Swelling in the affected body parts
  • Changes in hair growth or nail growth rate
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscular atrophy
  • Reduced mobility in the affected body parts
    The first indications of the disease include swelling and an increased sensitivity to pressure or cold, whereas the rest of the symptoms signify an advanced stage of the disease. The symptoms mentioned above are often limited to one area of the body but they spread to other parts over time. In some cases, complex regional pain syndrome can become irreversible.


Causes of the Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

To this day, the causes of complex regional pain syndrome have not been fully elucidated. It is thought that, in a number of cases, the condition is related to nerve damage or dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system. Damage may result after serious injury, heart attack, stroke, or surgery—conditions that can harm and inflame nerve tissue. Such factors are believed to cause the sensation of intense pain, which is disproportionate to what is expected for such specific medical problems.

Injuries associated with complex regional pain syndrome may include:

  • Limb fractures
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Joint injury
  • Infection and subsequent tissue injury
  • Soft tissue injury
  • Complications of a surgical or other medical procedure
    Idiopathic complex regional pain syndrome is a relatively uncommon disorder that is thought to be connected to an undiagnosed condition. Since there are few studies connecting the condition to genetic factors, it is not thought to be heritable.

Treatment Options

Patients with this syndrome have access to a wide variety of treatment options that reduce pain.

Drug Therapies

So far, there are some medications that can help reduce some of the symptoms of the syndrome, but not all of them. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, help reduce inflammation and mild to moderate pain. Oral corticosteroids are also used to treat inflammation and relieve pain. Muscle relaxants are used for muscle stiffness.


Non-Invasive Treatments

Early-onset cases of the syndrome can benefit from physiotherapy, especially when it comes to problems with mobility, blood flow, muscular strength, muscle tone, and joint stiffness. This intervention may also lessen the likelihood that these patients’ syndromes will get worse.
Qutenza patching is an effective and widely used non-invasive approach in patients who do not respond to medication or in patients who want more immediate pain relief.


Invasive Treatments

For individuals with complex regional pain syndrome who do not respond to conservative therapies, spinal cord stimulation is a suggested course of action. It involves the surgical implantation of a tiny device under the patient’s skin, near the spine, which modifies pain signals before they reach the brain, resulting in pain alleviation.


Alternative Treatments

Biofeedback and acupuncture are two alternative therapies that can help treat Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.