Understanding and Treating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

What is complex regional pain syndrome?

 Complex regional pain syndrome is a rare chronic pain disorder that typically affects the leg or arm. 

In most cases it will develop following surgery, injury, stroke or even a heart attack. One of the striking symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome is that the pain it causes is severely disproportionate to the initial injury. Exact numbers aren’t available, but it is believed that millions of Americans suffer from CRPS.

Complex regional pain syndrome is a bit of a mystery and it still is not clearly understood by medical professionals.

As with most pain disorders, the earlier the treatment intervention is undertaken the more successful it likely will be.

Remission, as well as improvement, is certainly possible for people that make diligent efforts to counteract this chronic pain condition.

It is known to occur as two types that resemble each other but have different causes.

Type 1 and Type 2 CRPS

  • Type 1 is known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. This usually results from an injury or illness I could not directly damage your limb’s nerves. 90% of the complex regional pain sufferers have type one.
  • In the case of Type 2, this is known as causalgia that is resulting from a specific nerve injury.

Causes of CRPS

In most cases, this chronic pain disorder results from severe trauma to the leg or arm, specifically something as traumatic as a crushing injury, an amputation or a fracture. In rarer cases, complex regional pain syndrome can be triggered by more minor dramatic events like infections, sprained ankles, surgery and heart attacks.

The medical and scientific communities are still perplexed as to why injuries can cause this chronic pain condition, but some research studies have indicated that there might be an interaction occurring between an individual’s central and peripheral nervous system’s as well as compounding inflammatory responses.

What to expect if you have a complex regional pain syndrome

If you don’t get it treated, there are two primary things that will happen. The first is atrophy or tissue wasting. If complex regional pain syndrome causes you to avoid moving your limb, it is likely that your arm or leg will begin to deteriorate and likely weaken.

Another complication is that your muscles will begin to tighten, also known as contracture. If you do not receive medical intervention, this can result in a situation where your fingers, hands, feet, and toes contract into fixed positions.

Treatments for complex regional pain syndrome

It is possible to experience remission or at least significant improvement if you begin treating this disorder within the first few months of displaying symptoms. Your physician will likely design a treatment plan for you that typically includes:

Type 1 and Type 2 CRPS

  • Medications typically include pain relievers like Aleve and Motrin. Opioid medications may also be an option if your doctor sees fit.
  • Bone loss medications like Fosamax and Miacalcin.
  • Anticonvulsants and antidepressants are also used, for instance, Neurontin, which is used to treat pain that results from nerve damage.
  • Intravenous ketamine is a potent anesthetic that has the potential to dramatically reduce pain.
  • Corticosteroids like Prednisone have the potential to decrease inflammation as well as enhance limb mobility.

Therapies for complex regional pain syndrome

  • Some typical therapies include the application of hot and cold packs.
  • Physical therapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
  • Biofeedback techniques

Final thoughts

If you or a loved one are unfortunate enough to contract this terrible chronic pain disorder, daily life may become incredibly challenging for you or them. Make sure that you communicate with those around you about the pain symptoms you are experiencing. Consider printing out information related to the disorder so that people can get a better understanding of what it is that you were going through.

Going forward, try to engage in your normal day-to-day activities. Make sure you get enough rest and remain as connected as possible with your family and friends. They will likely become a valuable support system for you. If you can, try to engage in things that you enjoy, for instance, hobbies or other extracurricular activities that you’re not trigger pain.

Consult with your doctor for other best practices regarding living with a chronic pain condition. It may make sense to join a local support group. As well, with the power of the Internet, you will likely be able to find support groups on the world wide web that you can access remotely to discuss and share information and tips.

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