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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Complex regional pain syndrome


Other Names for this Disease

  • CRPS
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
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Your Question

What are the common symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome?

Our Answer

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What is complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that mainly affects the arm or leg after an injury. The main feature of CRPS is continuous, intense pain that is out of proportion to the severity of the injury. The pain gets worse over time and often spreads throughout the entire affected arm or leg.  Other symptoms may include color and temperature changes of the skin over the affected area; skin sensitivity; sweating; and swelling. The underlying cause of CRPS is not known. Treatment aims to relieve pain and may include topical or oral medications; physical therapy; and/or a sympathetic nerve block.[1]
Last updated: 10/19/2011

What are the signs and symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) usually develops after an injury, surgery, stroke or heart attack.[2] The key symptom of CRPS is continuous, intense pain that is out of proportion to the severity of the injury. The pain gets worse over time. CRPS most often affects one of the arms, legs, hands, or feet, and the pain often spreads throughout the entire affected arm or leg.[1] Other signs and symptoms may include:[2]
  • sensitivity to touch or cold
  • swelling of the painful area
  • changes in skin temperature, color, and/or texture
  • joint stiffness and swelling
  • muscle weakness and/or muscle spasms

Symptoms may change over time and vary from person to person. In some people, signs and symptoms of go away on their own. In others, symptoms can persist for months to years.[2]

Last updated: 11/11/2014

What causes complex regional pain syndrome?

The underlying cause of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is not well understood. In most cases it occurs occurs after an illness or injury that did not directly damage the nerves in the affected area. In some cases, it occurs after a specific nerve injury. The exact trigger of CRPS after an injury is not known, but it may be due to abnormal interactions between the central and peripheral nervous systems, and/or inappropriate inflammatory responses.[2]
Last updated: 11/11/2014

How might complex regional pain syndrome be treated?

There is no known cure for complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Treatment mainly aims to control painful symptoms. If treatment is started within a few months of when symptoms begin, improvement or remission may be possible. A combination of therapies is usually necessary. Medications used to treat CRPS may include oral and topical pain relievers; antidepressants or anticonvulsants (which are sometimes used to treat pain); corticosteroids; bone-loss medications; sympathetic nerve-blocking medications; and/or intravenous anesthetics. Other therapies used may include applying heat or cold; physical therapy; electrical nerve stimulation; biofeedback; and/or spinal cord stimulation.[2] Unfortunately, no single drug or therapy (or combination) has shown consistent, long-lasting improvement among affected people.[1]
Last updated: 11/11/2014

What is the long-term outlook for people with complex regional pain syndrome?

The long-term outlook (prognosis) for people with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) varies from person to person.[2] In some people, signs and symptoms go away on their own; this is called spontaneous remission. In others, symptoms may persist for months or years and there may be irreversible problems.[2][1] Treatment is likely to be most effective when it is started early in the course of the illness, so early diagnosis and treatment may improve the prognosis.[2] The vast majority of children with CRPS have a good prognosis.[3]
Last updated: 11/11/2014

References
Other Names for this Disease
  • CRPS
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.