Also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), complex regional pain syndrome is a chronic painful condition that occurs most commonly in the extremities, often occurring initially in a hand or foot and then spreading to the entire arm or leg. While it may follow an injury or surgery, many cases have no known cause.
The cause of RSD is not known, although many researchers believe it may develop as a result of an abnormality affecting the nervous system which causes the nerves to “overreact” or misinterpret pain signals, amplifying them and extending them to other regions. Immune system disorders that cause the immune system to attack the nerves or other tissues may also play a role in complex regional pain syndrome. The syndrome often occurs following a surgery, illness or injury that did not directly affect the involved nerves, such as a heart attack.
RSD is actually one of two types of CRPS – type I, which develops without any obvious sign of direct nerve injury. Type II develops as a result of direct injury to the nerves.
Symptoms can include:
intense shooting or burning pain
red, swollen skin
increased in skin sensitivity
changes in the temperature of skin
restricted range of motion
Pain may intensify as CRPS progresses, and muscle atrophy and bone changes may occur. Eventually, the limb may become unusable. Nail and hair growth changes can also occur.
CRPS can be difficult to treat, especially if not caught early. Treatment options include anti-inflammatory and pain medications, hot and cold therapy, physical therapy and nerve block injections. Nerve stimulation may also be beneficial.
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