What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

The human body is complex and there can be a lot of issues within the body if you do not look after it. One such pain syndrome is known as the complex regional pain syndrome or CRPS and it is a form of chronic pain that often affects the legs or an arm. It occurs after surgery, a heart attack, a stroke, or even an injury. This pain is often out of proportion to the severity of the injury.

Since it is uncommon, it is not very clearly understood and the treatment is effective if started early. However, in these cases, improvement, as well as remission, is possible. Let us take a look at the symptoms of CRPS. These include:

  • Swelling in the painful area.
  • A consistent throbbing pain to burning in the foot, hand, arm, or leg.
  • A change in skin temperature that usually alternates from cold to sweaty. 
  • Sensitivity towards cold or touch.
  • A declined ability to move the affected body part.
  • Swelling, damage, or joint stiffness. 
  • A change in nail and hair growth.
  • A change in the skin color that could range from blotchy to white or red and blue. 
  • Tremors, muscle spasms, or weakness.
  • A change in skin texture that ranges from thin to shiny or tender in the area affected.

The symptoms could vary from person to person or from time to time. Redness, pain, noticeable changes in temperature, and hypersensitivity towards touch and cold often happen first. With time you will see the affected area become pale and cold and this could result in nail and skin changes as well as spasms and muscle tightening. If these changes occur, they will be irreversible. CRPS could spread from one place to another in the body, like in the opposite limb. 

For many people, the symptoms do go away by themselves while in many other cases, they persist from a few months to a few years. If treatment is started early, it is the most effective.

Should you see a doctor?

When you have constant and severe pain affecting your limb, you need to see a doctor. If moving or touching the limb becomes intolerable, it is important to visit one of the CRPS treatment centers to identify the cause and treat CRPS immediately.  

What causes CRPS?

Nobody has completely understood the cause behind CRPS and it is believed to be caused due to an injury or due to a difference in the central and peripheral nervous systems. But it usually occurs due to an injury or a trauma that affects your limbs. There are two types of CRPS and they both are caused by different reasons but they have the same types of symptoms and signs. The first type is known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy and it occurs when the injury or illness has not damaged the nerves in your affected limbs. It is the most common type of CRPS.

The other type is causalgia which has similar symptoms but it often occurs after a nerve injury. There are also a lot of cases that occur after heavy trauma on the leg or to an arm and it could include a fracture or even a crushing injury. It can also be caused due to other traumas like heart attacks, sprained ankles, surgery, or even an infection. 

There is no certain connection behind why an injury can lead to CRPS and not everyone who has suffered an injury will develop CRPS. You can also have the condition because of an interaction between the peripheral and central nervous systems. 

What are the complications?

When you are unable to diagnose or treat the condition in time, it could lead to more symptoms and a lot of disabling signs. The first complication is tissue wasting where the muscles, bones, and skin starts to weaken and deteriorate when you avoid or find trouble moving a leg or arm due to stiffness or pain. Another condition is the tightening of muscles which could lead to a situation where the fingers or the toes contract and remain in a fixed position. 

Can you prevent the condition?

There are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of CRPS. One is to take vitamin C immediately after a wrist fracture. It can significantly reduce the risk of CRPS as compared to those who do not take Vitamin C. Another way to prevent the condition is to begin mobilization after a stroke. Try to get out of bed or walk soon after a stroke in order to reduce the chances of having a CRPS. 

It is not possible to diagnose a condition without the help of a professional. Do not try to handle the condition by yourself at home. If you have a pain, contact a healthcare professional at the earliest.

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