Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. This is a condition characterized by chronic pain resulting from a dysfunction in the peripheral or central nervous system. CRPS may affect children but is most common amongst people between the ages of 20 and 35 years. Women have a higher risk of suffering from CRPS compared to men. It is not a very common condition and there is no known cure for it.

Syndrome Of Complex Regional Pain

Not everyone suffering from CRPS exhibits the same symptoms. The symptoms may differ on the basis of length and severity and change with time and may be aggravated by emotional stress. The typical symptoms of this condition are:

  • Intense pain that worsens with time
  • Pain that is dis-proportional to the extent of injury. For example, even if only one finger is injured, pain may be experienced in the entire arm. Pain may also travel to the opposite extremity.
  • Continuous burning or throbbing pain
  • Stiffness and swelling in the affected joints
  • Difficulty or inability moving the affected part
  • Changes in hair and nail growth patterns. For example, there may be no hair growth at all or there may be very rapid hair growth.
  • Changes in skin temperature. The skin in one extremity may be cool while the other is warm.
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Thin, shiny, excessively sweaty skin
  • Hyper-sensitivity to cold
  • Muscle spasms

Causes Of CRPS

CRPS is usually caused by a combination of factors that have similar symptoms. According to experts, it develops when the pain receptors in the affected parts of the body respond to catecholamines or messengers of the nervous system.

In the case of CRPS associated with an injury, a response from the immune system may result in inflammation of the affected area accompanied by warmth and redness. In such cases, CRPS may disrupt the healing process.

CRPS Diagnosis

There is no specific test to diagnose this condition. However, tests may be conducted to rule out other conditions. Thus, diagnosing this condition especially when the symptoms are mild or few can be very difficult. It is typically diagnosed by observing symptoms such as:

  • Initial injuries
  • Severe pain
  • Change in appearance of the affected area


If left untreated, CRPS can cause tissue atrophy and tightening of the muscles

Since there is no known cure for the condition, treatment is aimed at relieving pain and making the patient more comfortable. It may be treated with drugs, physical therapy and psychotherapy.

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Q&As on Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

 1) What are the various causes of complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome or CRPS is not caused because of one single reason. There are various causes of CRPS that lead to the development of the symptoms associated with this syndrome. As per some theories, the pain receptors in the impacted body part become highly responsive to catecholamines, which are a group of messengers for your nervous system. Then in the case of injury-based CRPS, the immune system gets triggered, thereby leading to some inflammatory symptoms like swelling, redness and warmth in the affected area. Because of this, CRPS is often considered a disturbance of the healing process. Even if it appears maximum after any injury, it is also triggered by any infection, stroke, neck problems or pressure on any nerve.

2) What are some of the disabling symptoms of CRPS?

Complex regional pain syndrome can lead to varied symptoms affecting the body that can sometimes result in long-term disability. In addition, such symptoms can be highly limiting and disturbing, which prevents you from doing your daily chores.

Some of the major symptoms of CRPS are:

  • Intense pain constantly in your appendages
  • Sensitivity to cold or touch
  • Muscle spasms, atrophy, tremors
  • Skin temperature changes.
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Reduce the capability to move body parts that are affected
  • Changes in skin color and skin texture
  • Fatigue
  • Differences in the growth of hair and nail

3) What to expect if you have complex regional pain syndrome?

Every person experiences different things when they have CRPS. Generally, it improves and goes away on its own. But serious and lingering cases of CRPS, even if rare, can occur and affect your life. In many cases, CRPS becomes worse and can even spread to other parts of your body. Psychological disturbances greatly affect CRPS severity and prognosis. The recurrence of CRPS affects about 10 – 30% of the population, and the reason behind it is still unknown. The vital thing is relieving pain and restoring movement and strength in the limb. By reducing the pain, you enhance its function and the quality of your life. When treatment plans are selected properly, it helps some people suffering from CRPS manage their pain successfully and lead a good life.

4) How to take care of yourself when you have CRPS?

When you suffer from pain for a long time, it affects your emotions and mind. When you are depressed or have other psychological issues, it becomes hard for you to recover. Some therapies, lifestyle changes along with proper medication will certainly help. Your doctor should also connect you with some health professionals who can assist you. They can guide you with some relaxation techniques. In addition, you can join support groups from where you will draw strength from other people.

5) Who is mainly affected by CRPS, and how common is it?

CRPS mainly affects adults around age 40, and it mainly affects females more than males. It is not common in elderly persons who get lesser inflammation after an injury and also in children who heal fast and wholly.  CRPS is quite rare, and about 200000 people each year get affected by CRPS in the USA.

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