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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What is complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a painful condition that can occur in one or more of your limbs. CRPS has 2 types. Type 1 has no known cause. Type 2 is caused by nerve damage.

What increases my risk for CRPS?

  • Trauma that causes a sprain or a broken bone
  • Surgery
  • Cuts, puncture wounds, burns, or frostbite
  • Immobilization of a limb, such as in a cast
  • Medical conditions, such as heart attack or stroke

What are the signs and symptoms of CRPS?

You may have any of the following in the limb:

  • Severe burning, stabbing pain
  • Tingling or electrical feeling
  • Increased sweating
  • Swelling and muscle spasms
  • Speckled skin that is sensitive to the touch
  • Joint stiffness or loss of movement
  • Hair loss and nail changes

How is CRPS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask if you have had any recent injuries, surgeries, or traumas. Tell your provider about your medical conditions. You may also need any of the following:

  • Blood tests may be needed to give your providers information about how your body is working.
  • X-rays or bone scans may show problems with your bones.
  • An MRI takes pictures of the inside of your body. This test may be used to check for problems and changes in your bones and tissues. Never enter the MRI room with any metal objects. This can cause serious injury. Tell the provider if you have any metal implants in your body.
  • Skin temperature and sweat tests may be done to check for temperature differences between your injured and uninjured limbs. Sweat testing is done to check for increased sweating in your injured limb.
  • Nerve conduction tests may be done to check for damaged nerves in your injured limb.

How is CRPS treated?

  • Medicines will be given to treat swelling, nerve pain, and blood flow. Ask for written instructions so that your medicines reduce your pain.
  • Physical therapy may be ordered by your provider. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength in your injured limb.
  • A nerve block may be done to stop the pain signals that go to your brain. Your provider will inject a substance into or around the nerve that is causing your pain.
  • Surgery may be needed to destroy the nerves that are causing your pain. You may need a device implanted to deliver constant pain medicine or to send signals to the spinal cord to control your pain. If your CRPS becomes severe enough to affect your quality of life, the limb may need to be amputated.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I help manage my CRPS?

  • Stay active. Movement of the injured limb may help lower your pain.
  • Find ways to relax. Your pain may increase when you are anxious. Ask your provider about relaxation techniques that help lower pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have limb pain that you think is worse than any recent injury should cause.
  • You have limb pain that continues after an injury heals.
  • You have limb pain caused by things that do not normally cause pain, such as a touch to the skin.
  • You have swelling, sweating, and skin temperature changes in an injured limb.
  • You have trouble moving an injured limb.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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