An Overview of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Potential Treatments

An Overview of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Potential Treatments

Complex regional pain syndrome is sometimes referred to by the initials CRPS. It can be an exceptionally debilitating condition that can cause patients to feel abnormal levels of pain that affects their ability to experience a good quality of life to a substantial degree.

What is CRPS?

CRPS is very much a chronic pain condition, in the sense that it is long lasting. It is, as its name would suggest a complex pain condition, which is not widely understood and therefore specialist treatment may be required.

CRPS is usually diagnosed after someone has an injury. Whilst it may be logical to think that any injury would be painful, CRPS as a condition has very specific symptoms but it can be summarised as the patient genuinely experiencing levels of pain that are not in accordance with the injury sustained. In other words, the patient feels an abnormal level of pain, far greater and much more intense than would be reasonably be expected from a specific injury.

Main Symptoms of CRPS

CPRS usually affects one of the limbs and can typically start in the feet, legs, arms or hands. The pain can be extremely intense and the pain may spread throughout the entire limb.

Patients will also feel extremely sensitive to touch, often being unable to bear even the slightest touch.

They will often have a very raised temperature, with one side of the body having a different temperature from the other.

Patients may experience sudden sweats, goose bumps and swelling, with many other symptoms that can also present, according to the individual patient and their experience of CPRS.

What Causes CPRS?

There is no single cause of CRPS, sometimes it may be experienced by patients, for no obvious reason, then may spontaneously clear up again.

Some medical professionals believe that it may be caused by the immune system have an out of proportion response to an injury, thereby causing the swelling, sweating and temperature differences.

It may also be caused by the nervous system having an inappropriate reaction to some kind of injury or trauma.

Treatment Options

Although the condition can spontaneously disappear, it requires treatment because the level of pain felt by patients continues to get worse, rather than better.

Generally, treatment will be more successful if initiated within 3 months of the condition first starting.

Due to the individuality of this condition, treatment options vary greatly, but generally include physiotherapy if the patient is able to withstand this.

Drug treatments include analgesic painkillers as well as corticosteroids and antidepressants where these are required. Opioids may also be prescribed. However, the complex nature of CRPS means that there is no single option for medication, since many patients do not respond to medication.

More invasive procedures used include using nerve bocks to prevent pain signals reaching the brain, stimulation of the spinal cord, through using different techniques and sometimes drug pumps.

Again, there is no one single procedure that can effectively treat this condition. Your pain consultant will advise of the options that may alleviate the symptoms, but there are times when several procedures may have to be undertaken to ensure complete relief from pain.