Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a broad term that describes chronic pain and inflammation that usually affects an arm or leg. The exact causes of CRPS are not fully understood, however, there are a range of treatments available that are typically most effective when started early.
CRPS is a recognized medical condition that can cause spontaneous, severe, and debilitating pain that may be constant or fluctuate with activity. It usually affects only one limb, but in rare cases, it can spread to other parts of the body. Although the exact cause of CRPS is unclear, the condition is thought to be caused by an injury or damage to the peripheral nerve fibers that carry pain messages to the brain. This prevents them from functioning properly and can induce inflammation. CRPS most often develops following trauma, an injury (such as a fracture, cut, or sprain), or surgery. It may also occur after a heart attack or stroke. The condition is thought to be more common in people who smoke or have poor nerve health.
Sometimes, CRPS may not result from a direct nerve injury but rather due to an abnormal interaction between the central and peripheral nervous systems, following an illness or injury, which can cause some of the body’s systems to malfunction.
Symptoms of CRPS
Symptoms of CRPS can vary over time and from person to person. Often, the number of symptoms reduce during recovery. At first, pain, swelling, redness, hypersensitivity, and changes in temperature may be experienced, but over time, the affected limb may undergo a variety of other symptoms, including:
- Continuous burning, stabbing, throbbing, squeezing, or stinging pain
- Tingling and numbness
- Swelling in the affected area
- Skin becoming very sensitive in the affected area –
- Hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity and extreme response to mild pain, such as a pin prick, which can cause prolonged or severe pain)
- Allodynia (experiencing pain from even the slightest touch to the affected skin)
- Strange sensations in the affected limb (such as feeling bigger than the other limb)
- Tremors and muscle spasms or weakness
- Joint stiffness and swelling
- Reduced mobility in the affected area
- Flare ups of symptoms (periods of time when pain gets worse) such as through stress, which may last a few days or weeks
- Changes to skin color, temperature, or texture or in hair or nail growth (such as becoming cold and pale)
- Bone fragility in the affected limb
In most cases, CRPS is mild and gradually improves over time, eventually going away completely as the injured nerve regrows. However, some people with the condition may experience pain for many years. In severe or prolonged cases, CRPS can lead to long-term disability, reducing overall quality of life.
When To Visit A Doctor
If you are experiencing constant, severe pain that is affecting a limb and makes touching or moving the limb intolerable, you should visit your health care provider as soon as possible for further evaluation. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to recovery from CRPS and preventing the condition from getting worse.
Diagnosis and Treatment for CRPS
There is no single test to definitively diagnose CRPS, but the condition is usually diagnosed by carrying out a physical examination, ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms, and assessing medical history. A number of lab and imaging tests may also be required to help diagnose CRPS, which may include:
- Blood test
- Sweat production test
- Bone scan
- Nerve conduction study
In some cases, mild cases of CRPS may recover on their own. However, treatment is typically most effective when started early. There are a range of treatments available, and sometimes, a combination of treatments may be necessary, depending on the suspected cause and severity of symptoms. These can include:
- Rehabilitation and physical therapy to promote and restore flexibility, function, and strength and prevent worsening of symptoms
- Medications and injections, such as pain relievers, corticosteroids, certain antidepressants, bone-loss medications, and nerve-block medications
- Therapies, such as spinal cord stimulation, biofeedback, acupuncture, and guided motion therapy
In rare cases, surgery may be carried out to repair damaged nerves, but this is typically not recommended.
Treatment for CRPS in Southwest Florida
If you are experiencing symptoms of CRPS, visit the orthopedic experts at Advanced Orthopedic Center. We provide a comprehensive range of services and orthopedic procedures to diagnose and treat a broad range of conditions affecting the arms, legs, shoulders, hips, knees, feet, ankles, elbows, hands, wrists, neck, and spine, or wherever you may be experiencing joint, tendon, muscle, or nerve root pain.
To learn more about our services, or to schedule an appointment, call the specialists at Advanced Orthopedics Center at (941) 629-6262 or visit us at one of our two convenient locations. Alternatively, you can use our simple online form.