Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
Introduction to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
Complex regional pain syndrome is a long-term condition that causes debilitating pain. It typically develops following an injury, often affecting just one limb.
What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?
Complex regional pain syndrome is a long-term condition that causes debilitating pain. It typically develops following an injury, often affecting just one limb. It can affect people of all ages, with the most common demographic being middle aged women. In many cases, symptoms improve partially or totally with time, but in some people, the condition remains for many years. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with complex regional pain syndrome, and they are preventing you from carrying out normal activities, see a neurologist or GP.
What causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?
There is no single cause for all cases of complex regional pain syndrome. Instead, it is likely that several possible abnormalities may be responsible, such as damage to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), damage to the peripheral nervous system, blood vessel abnormalities, and immune system dysfunction. Reflecting our poor understanding of the condition, there is no single test to diagnose complex regional pain syndrome. Indeed, diagnosis is usually based on ruling out other causes of the related symptoms. For example, your medical team may take blood tests to rule out rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause similar symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?
Pain associated with complex regional pain syndrome is usually stabbing or burning, affecting just one limb, and sometimes radiating to others. The pain is typically constant, with periodic ‘flare-ups’ where the pain becomes more severe.
In addition to pain, you may experience unusual sensations in the affected area. The region may become swollen, red, and feel hot. The combination of these symptoms can make it difficult to sleep and affect your mood, resulting in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) treated?
With treatment, the majority of people experiencing complex regional pain syndrome find that their symptoms improve after a few years. Treatment is typically based on a combination of pain relief, self-management, and psychological support.
There are several options for pain relief and it may take a while for you to identify the most appropriate strategy for yourself. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen may be useful for dealing with mild symptoms. If you are experiencing severe pain, opiates such as codeine and morphine may be considered, although these are not always effective and carry several significant side effects.
Physical rehabilitation is another important part of management of the condition. For example, a physiotherapist may recommend certain exercises to prevent muscle wasting. In addition, you can help yourself by avoiding stress, which can precipitate flare-ups. Finally, if your condition is causing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, antidepressants or anxiolytics may be required, along with psychological therapy such as CBT.