Complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, is rare form of chronic pain that often affects the arms or legs. Commonly triggered after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack, it is believed to be caused by damage or malfunction of the peripheral and central nervous systems.

What are the symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome?

The symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome will vary from person to person, depending on the severity and the body parts affected. Some common signs and symptoms of CRPS include:

  • Sensitivity to touch or cold
  • Swelling of the area of pain
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Trouble moving the affected body part
  • Continuous burning or throbbing
  • Significant changes in skin temperature from hot to cold
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle spasms and weakness
  • Changes in skin color or texture
  • Skin on one extremity feels warmer or cooler than the other

Symptoms of CRPS can change over time and even worsen with emotional stress. Signs and symptoms can go away on their own, but sometimes will continue for months to even years.

What causes complex regional pain syndrome?

The exact cause of CRPS is still unclear, but it can be triggered by multiple conditions that exhibit similar symptoms. Many cases of CRPS occur after a forceful trauma to an arm or leg, resulting in an injury, fracture or amputation.

It is still unknown as to why these types of injuries can cause CRPS, but it’s been believed to be the result of dysfunctional interaction between the central and peripheral nervous systems, as well as trouble with inflammatory responses.

Diagnosing complex regional pain syndrome

Your doctor can do a few different things to diagnose CRPS. He or she will first look at your medical history and complete a physical exam. Although there is not a comprehensive test to definitively diagnose CRPS, your doctor can perform the following tests to point out significant clues to the condition:

  • X-rays
  • Bone scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Sympathetic nervous system tests

Treating complex regional pain syndrome

If CRPS goes untreated, the affected limb will experience increasingly troublesome symptoms. If the extremity becomes cold, pale and begins to display nail and skin changes, as well as muscle spasms, the condition may have advanced to a point where the damage is irreversible.

The earlier CRPS is caught, the greater the chances of remission will be. Often times, a combination of therapies will be needed. Treatment options include…

Medications like:

  • Pain relievers
  • Bone-loss medications
  • Antidepressants and anticonvulsants
  • Intravenous ketamine
  • Corticosteroids
  • Sympathetic nerve-blocking medication

Therapies such as:

  • Biofeedback
  • Spinal cord stimulation
  • Applying heat and cold
  • Physical therapy
  • Topical analgesics
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

If you or someone you love is displaying symptoms of CRPS, contact the pain specialists at Cedar Rapids Pain Associates to schedule your appointment. Call (319) 540-8251 today.