What is it?

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic condition, once known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, characterized by an unexplained feeling of pain and discomfort that typically affects one of the extremities, such as an arm, leg, hand or foot. The condition is not fully understood, but people most commonly develop CRPS is after an illness or traumatic surgery to an extremity. In some people, the syndrome may be linked to an abnormality in the sympathetic nervous system, while other cases may be related to an abnormality of the immune system.

Two Types:

The condition breaks down into Type I and Type II, each with their own description.Type I develops without an obvious sign of nerve injury or after tissue trauma, whereas type II is related to direct injury of the nerves. Symptoms may include intense burning, and shooting pain, redness or swelling of the skin, changes in skin temperature, sweating, increased skin sensitivity, muscle spasms, or restricted motion. Nails and hair may grow at an increased rate, while as symptoms progress the hair growth slows, nails become brittle, pain becomes severe, and muscles may contract and atrophy.


The final stage of the condition may cause the entire limb to become engulfed in pain, where the muscles completely atrophy causing the bone to soften. This leaves the limb twisted and completely unusable. CRPS can be intensely painful and difficult to treat. Hot and cold compresses along with anti-inflammatory drugs are the common treatment. Physical therapy will help, along with nerve block injections and nerve stimulation techniques.

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Ben Glass is a nationally recognized Virginia injury, medical malpractice, and long-term disability attorney