Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

The condition known as complex regional pain syndrome is one of the less common causes of pain, but when it does occur, it is chronic and affects the legs and arms. While this condition is still not fully understood, there are certain medical conditions and injuries that are linked to the syndrome, and treatment is often effective when provided during the first stages of the condition.

This chronic condition, also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, is an unexplained feeling of pain and discomfort that most commonly affects an arm, leg, hand or foot. Often, it begins in the hand or foot and then spreads to affect the entire limb.

Facts about Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

  • Features – There are not only physical symptoms seen with complex regional pain syndrome, but there is a variety of issues that are called “features” of the syndrome. Some of the features of complex regional pain syndrome are changes in the skin, which may take on a shiny appearance and changes in the sweating pattern where the condition occurs. The hair and nail growth patterns may also change, and thinning of the skin is seen in some cases.
  • Stiffening – This condition is known to cause stiffening of the joints throughout the entire body, regardless of the area where it is present.
  • Adverse effects – Once the condition causes the muscles to have adverse effects, it is not reversible.


The symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome can vary greatly from one person to another, but the most common symptoms that occur are often seen in a wide-range of patients who are diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome.

The most common symptoms of this condition include:

  • Pain in the region
  • Swelling of the area
  • Tint to the skin
  • Hypersensitivity to hot and cold temperatures

Other than the common symptoms, some patients with complex regional pain syndrome experience muscle spasms throughout various regions of the body, stiffening of the muscles, and pain in the muscles. In some cases, the symptoms can spread from one location to another, which is generally between limbs. Many people find that their symptoms get worse during times when they are under a high level of emotional stress.

Diagnostic Tests

Due to the rarity and complexity of complex regional pain syndrome, testing is difficult. Often, a physical exam, along with a review of your medical history is used as the most effective diagnostic tool. However, your physician may also use different imaging devices to look for signs of the condition.


There are two different categories of complex regional pain syndrome, and the causes of the condition will fall within one of the two types. While the symptoms remain the same, the causes are separated. These include:

  • Type 1: When an injury or illness occurs that did not cause direct injury to the nerves, but resulted in the syndrome, the type falls under category one. This is the most common cause, and about 90 percent of patients seen with this condition will fall into this category.
  • Type 2: This occurs due to direct damage to the nerves. This is often present after a high-impact trauma to the nerves, or when surgery, stroke, or a heart attack causes damaged to the nerves.


The earlier treatment is used for complex regional pain syndrome, the more effective it will be. As mentioned earlier, when this condition progresses and affects the muscles, there is not much that can be done other than using nerve blocks. When found in the early stages, medication is often prescribed to help with the pain and prevent it from getting worse.

These medications include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Antidepressants
  • Corticosteroids
  • Nerve blocking medications
  • Bone loss medications

At home therapies can also reduce the symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome, and this helps prevent progression. The use of hot and cold compresses and topical creams are effective for some patients. Some additional treatment options that may be used include physical therapy, spinal cord stimulation, and electrical impulse treatment. While treatment may be effective, is known to cause re occurrences. By reducing you’re exposed to stress, or extreme temperature changes, you will can help reduce the amount of re occurrences,

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