What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?

CRPS was previously known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) Syndrome. It is a nerve disorder characterised by great pain, swelling, and other severe changes in the skin. It exists as type I CRPS and type II CRPS. The former type is caused by tissue injury with no nerve injury, while the latter is related to nerve injury as in cases of high-speed-impact-causing injuries like a bullet wound; in this case, even after the bullet wound has been cured, the person will still suffer from extreme pain. The type II CRPS affects many systems simultaneously: the nervous system, the skin, the muscles, blood vessels and bones.


It is a disease which often exacerbates over time: the disease may spread from the initial affected area to the whole body; moving from an arm or leg to the rest of the body.

What are symptoms of CRPS?

CRPS is characterised by persistent pain which does not seem to abate over time. Rather, the pain gets more and more pronounced with the passage of time. The limbs are severely affected: the arms, legs, hands and feet.

The symptoms are as follows:

1. The pain sensations are often too much to bear. The patients experience burning pain, evolving into stabbing and throbbing pains.

2. Changes in the skin make-up

  • Enhanced sensitivity
  • Fluctuations in temperature
  • Colour changes, turning purple or red
  • Texture becomes shiny and exceedingly sweaty

3. Nail and hair growth patterns change

4. The affected joint swells and becomes stiff

5. Motor disability which worsens over time

Causes of CRPS

Research is ongoing to identify the exact cause of the disease. It was previously thought that the problem had to do with the sympathetic nervous system. However, scientists have contested this theory. Mostly, the extremities experience great trauma such as sprains, fractures, surgery, damage to blood vessels or nerves, as well as brain injuries.

Treatment for CRPS

  • Physical and occupational therapy are required as treatment.
  • Medications exist of different types to relieve the patients from the discomfort entailed in the disease.
  • Keeping the affected region in elevation might help for some patients.
  • Surgery is often resorted to in other cases.

Each case has its own specifities, therefore, treatment plans must be individualised to fit the needs and requirements of each. So, sometimes, the above mentioned measures have to be applied in combination.

The treatment is specially effective if it starts off early, when the symptoms have first been observed. Early diagnosis thus helps to a great extent. The later the treatment begins, the less likely will it work fully.

Cure for CRPS

No cure has been found yet to completely deliver the patients from their pain. Researchers are therefore working on it.

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