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Pain Management Glossary Inflammation

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: A Detailed Guide

6 months, 2 weeks ago

4909  0
Posted on Dec 05, 2023, 8 a.m.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that typically affects a single limb, such as an arm, leg, hand, or foot, often following an injury or a medical procedure. CRPS is characterized by prolonged or excessive pain and changes in skin color, temperature, and/or swelling in the affected area. There is extensive care required in its treatment which isn’t short term.

Understanding CRPS

CRPS is an enigmatic and complex condition, primarily identified by its disproportionate and persistent pain. It's categorized into two types:

  • CRPS-I (formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy or RSD): This type occurs without a confirmed nerve injury.
  • CRPS-II (formerly known as Causalgia): This type is diagnosed when a nerve injury has occurred.

The onset of CRPS typically follows a trauma or injury, such as fractures, sprains, or surgical procedures. It's believed that these injuries trigger an abnormal response in the nervous system, leading to the symptoms observed in CRPS. However, the exact pathophysiology behind CRPS remains poorly understood, with research suggesting a combination of inflammatory and neurological changes contributing to the condition.

Symptoms of CRPS

The primary symptom of CRPS is intense, persistent pain that is often described as a burning, pins-and-needles, or squeezing sensation. The pain may exceed the original injury's severity and can spread beyond the initial injury site. Other common symptoms include:

  • Sensory Changes: Increased sensitivity to touch or temperature changes, often leading to severe discomfort from stimuli that wouldn't normally cause pain (allodynia).
  • Autonomic Dysregulation: Abnormal swelling, changes in skin temperature (either too hot or too cold), and alterations in skin color (ranging from white and mottled to red or blue).
  • Motor Symptoms: Muscle weakness, tremors, or dystonia (involuntary muscle contractions causing abnormal postures).
  • Trophic Changes: Changes in nail and hair growth patterns, and skin texture changes, making it tender, thin, or shiny in the affected area.

Causes and Risk Factors

The precise cause of CRPS is not fully understood. It's believed to involve abnormal responses in the peripheral and central nervous systems. The following factors are thought to contribute to the development of CRPS:

  • Injury or Surgery: Especially injuries to limbs.
  • Abnormal Inflammatory Response: Excessive or prolonged inflammation following an injury.
  • Nervous System Malfunction: Abnormal signaling in the nerves that control pain perception and inflammation.
  • Genetic Factors: A predisposition to CRPS may be present in some families.
  • Emotional Stress: This can exacerbate or contribute to the development of CRPS symptoms.


Diagnosing CRPS is challenging due to the lack of specific diagnostic tests and the variability of symptoms. Physicians typically rely on medical history, clinical signs, and symptoms. Diagnostic criteria include:

  • Continued Pain: Disproportionate to any inciting event.
  • Evidence of Edema or Changes in Skin Blood Flow: Observed during physical examination.
  • Exclusion of Other Conditions: Ruling out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms.

Treatment and Management

CRPS has no known cure, and treatment focuses on relieving painful symptoms and improving function. Treatment plans are often multidisciplinary and may include:

  • Medication: Pain relievers, antidepressants, corticosteroids, and bone-loss medications.
  • Physical Therapy: To maintain limb mobility and prevent secondary complications.
  • Psychotherapy: To manage the psychological impacts of chronic pain.
  • Nerve Blocks: To provide temporary pain relief.
  • Electrical Stimulation Therapies: Such as spinal cord stimulation or peripheral nerve stimulation.
  • Alternative Therapies: Including acupuncture or biofeedback.

Living with CRPS

Living with CRPS can be physically and emotionally challenging. Coping strategies include:

  • Pain Management Programs: Tailored to the individual's needs, focusing on both physical and psychological aspects of pain.
  • Support Groups: For shared experiences and coping strategies.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Such as gentle exercise regimes and stress reduction techniques.

How Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help

Personal injury lawyers play a crucial role in assisting individuals suffering from CRPS, particularly when the condition is the result of an injury caused by another party's negligence or a workplace incident. Here’s how they can help:

Legal Representation and Advice

  • Understanding of CRPS: Knowledgeable personal injury lawyers understand the complexities of CRPS, including its impact on the client’s life and the medical intricacies involved.
  • Case Evaluation: They can evaluate the case to determine the liability and the extent of the injury, including how CRPS has affected the individual’s quality of life, ability to work, and need for ongoing treatment.

Compensation and Claims

  • Securing Compensation: Lawyers can help in securing compensation for medical expenses, including costs for ongoing treatments, therapies, and medications specific to CRPS.
  • Lost Wages and Earning Capacity: They assist in claiming lost wages and potential future earnings, especially if CRPS hampers the individual’s ability to work.
  • Pain and Suffering: Legal experts can argue for compensation for pain and suffering endured due to CRPS, considering its chronic and often debilitating nature.

Negotiations and Litigation

  • Negotiating with Insurance Companies: Personal injury lawyers are adept at negotiating with insurance companies to ensure fair compensation.
  • Representation in Court: If necessary, they can represent the individual in court, presenting the complexities of CRPS to a judge or jury to secure appropriate compensation.

Support and Guidance

  • Guidance Through Legal Process: They provide guidance through the complexities of the legal system and help in understanding the legal rights and options available.
  • Emotional and Psychological Support: While not therapists, personal injury lawyers can offer support by handling the stressful aspects of legal proceedings, allowing the individual to focus on recovery and management of CRPS.


For individuals suffering from CRPS as a result of an injury where another party is at fault, a personal injury lawyer can be an invaluable asset. They not only provide legal expertise and representation but also assist in navigating the challenging path towards securing rightful compensation and support for a condition that significantly impacts one's quality of life.

This article was written for WHN by Nancy R Fernandez, who is a content creator, freelance writer, blogger, and health advocate. 

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.

Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

Content may be edited for style and length.

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