Known as CRPS, complex regional pain syndrome is a painful condition that usually affects a person’s leg or arm. Because it is uncommon and generally used as a broad defining term, there are varying characteristics and no specific underlying cause attributed to the condition. It is considered to be chronic and can be difficult to treat. Pain management is always a journey that needs great care and treatment.
Symptoms of CRPS
The symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome can vary greatly from patient to patient. The main characterizing symptom of CRPS is a burning nerve pain that comes and goes or is continuous. This is commonly described as throbbing or like pins-and-needles. This pain is usually localized to one arm, leg, hand, or foot. Some people feel pain only when skin contact is made with the affected limb. Other common symptoms include swelling and heat coming from the area, changes in the texture or color of the skin, abnormal hair and nail growth, excessive sweating, and impaired muscle strength or weakness. Less common symptoms can be abnormal bone growth or atrophy, joint stiffness and damage, and tremors or jerking in the muscles.
Why Does CRPS Happen?
Although there may not be a defined cause, it is clear that CRPS happens because of injured or damaged nerves. Dysfunctional nerves can cause a range of symptoms depending on how and why they are injured. Most people who develop complex regional pain syndrome first experience some kind of traumatic injury like a crushing or fracturing of bones. This can cause splinters of bone to damage the surrounding nerves. Unfortunately, there are many other things that seem to cause CRPS, but there is no identifiable cause as to why this condition may occur sometimes when it does not at other times. Sometimes something as common as a simple surgery can cause CRPS, even if the surgery goes well.
There are very small nerve fibers in the body that control blood circulation. Damage to these nerve fibers cause the symptoms of CRPS. Because they are so small, they are difficult or nearly impossible to repair. Sometimes they can heal on their own or become deadened over time. Some treatments revolve around helping the body circulate blood to keep more symptoms from developing.
For some patients, depending on the cause of their CRPS, there may be a cure available. For example, if CRPS is a result of a surgery, sometimes doctors can go in and repair the affected area. Most of the time, treatments can mitigate pain and help patients experience relief. The use of compression stockings or sleeves can sometimes help symptoms. Keeping the affected limb elevated can help reduce symptoms while resting and sleeping. Some medications that block nerve pain can also be effective. Steroids have also been proven to help especially with swelling and improving mobility. Sometimes physical therapy may help as well, especially because it can improve heart health and circulation. Electrical nerve stimulation may also facilitate new growth and help repair the damaged nerves. CRPS also almost always improves over time, which can be an incentive for any person to be patient and try different treatments.
Pain Management and Nerves
Managing a person’s pain is complicated, but it is important to understand that it is a journey. It can be very overwhelming, so personalized care is key to recovery. Nerve pain, also known as neuralgia, can also be difficult to diagnose depending on the symptoms and any other conditions each individual may be experiencing. There are many tests and scans that can be ordered to help our doctors diagnose each person quickly and create a personalized treatment plan. We are committed to helping each of our patients lead happy and healthy lives. Each person’s quality of life is important to us, and we do everything we can to help them recover and regain function and ability.