Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – Everything You Need to Know

November 12, 2012

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome - Everything You Need to Know

Complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, refers to a condition of chronic pain that is known to come about because of dysfunctions in the peripheral or central nervous systems. In general, CRPS can be characterized by stiffness, pain and swelling in the affected extremities and usually happens because of a minor or major injury. Basically, it makes the nervous system send constant and frequent signs of pain to the brain, even if the injury wasn’t that bad to begin with.

How Does Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Happen?

CRPS can start after a small laceration or a tiny sprain, or after major surgery or trauma. Its onset might be provoked by an injured nerve, as well. Most of the time, CRPS occurs in people between 25 years old and 55 years old, although it can affect any age and gender.

What are the Symptoms and Signs of CRPS?

The most common CRPS symptom out there would be an intense and continuous pain that is completely beyond the injury’s actual severity. Sometimes, it is also associated with the following symptoms and signs, though:

  • burning pain

  • heightened skin sensitivity

  • skin temperature changes

  • skin color changes

  • hair and nail growth pattern changes

  • joint stiffness and swelling

  • motor disability

  • a spreading of the pain

How Can CRPS be Diagnosed?

There are no basic tests to diagnose complex regional pain syndrome. All that a doctor can really do is observe the patient’s symptoms and signs. This would be especially vital if the patient is having an intense physical problem, like an entrapped or compressed nerve. Ideally, a thorough physical and history examination should be conducted, though, along with x-rays, MRIs, bone scans, pain imaging and thermography. Sometimes, pain clinics and other specialist consultations might be recommended, too.

How Should CRPS Be Treated?

One thing needs to be remembered here: the earlier that complex regional pain syndrome is diagnosed and its treatment is started, the higher the chances a person will have to completely recover from it. Naturally, this treatment will differ from one person to the next, depending on the duration of their problem and the severity of their symptoms. Either way, though, sleep disorder relief, psychological treatment and aerobic conditioning would all be vital for the treatment’s success. H

There are several other treatments that might be used for CRPS:

Physical or Occupational Therapy

Exercise programs can greatly help with some patients’ mobility. As mentioned earlier, aerobic conditioning would also be vital to help improve patients’ sleep control, pain control and overall coping abilities.


Some patients might experience profound psychological effects because of complex regional pain syndrome, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. To improve the motivation and coping abilities of these patients, and to address and detect any issues with substance abuse, a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist might be recommended.

Nerve Blocks

A lot of patients feel much better after nerve blocks, wherein local anesthesia is injected into their numb nerves. Through this type of pain relief, blocks will be able to bring about a better mood, higher energy levels and more effective therapy in the long run.


A lot of different drugs can be used to treat complex regional pain syndrome, too, such as topical analgesics, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, corticosteroids, opioids, sleeping medications, and muscle relaxants.

Category: Articles