Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a condition that affects the extremities of a person who has been injured. CRPS typically results from a problem within the nervous system that controls sweat glands and blood flow in the hand and arm.

CRPS can cause inflexibility and stiffness within the arm. Once afflicted with CRPS, the nervous system becomes overactive, causing burning pains, swelling, and warmth in the injured limb.

The onset of CRPS symptoms can be instant or gradual, often affecting your life months after the actual incident happens. The diagnosis includes other medical diagnoses such as Sudeck’s atrophy and shoulder-hand syndrome.

CRPS Treatment

If you suspect that something is wrong, get medical help immediately. Treatments for CRPS range from pain management, physical therapy, and other drugs, to the implantation of a device to stimulate the damaged nerves. By diagnosing and treating CRPS as early as possible, you may have a better chance of regaining full movement in the affected area.

Most medical professionals use one or a combination of three CRPS treatments:


Doctors may inject local anesthetics into a nerve bundle at the base of the neck to relieve symptoms. Sometimes, a tourniquet may be applied to the arm and medication may be injected into a vein along with an anesthetic.

Some medications you may receive include:

  • Cortisone
  • Clonidine
  • Pregbalin
  • Amitriptyline

Physical therapy

A medical professional can guide patients through a range of motion exercises and other types of physical therapy. The therapy is gradual in intensity and should be coupled with cooling agents to relieve symptoms in problem areas.


If CRPS has progressed into a later stage, surgery may be necessary. This can include the implantation of a device to stimulate the affected nerves. Surgery is not recommended as treatment for CRPS in all cases and must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Symptoms

Though there are many different stages of the condition, some of the main symptoms can include burning pain, stiffness, swelling, and discoloration. A diagnosis of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome may be made when at least three of the following symptoms are present:

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Increased or decreased blood flow
  • Swelling with joint stiffness
  • Skin changes

It can be difficult to diagnose CRPS, as blood tests will not indicate the disorder’s presence. X-rays and MRIs can show thinning bones, which could be a sign. Intensive bone scans can corroborate X-ray and MRI findings.

Complex regional pain syndrome presents itself in one of two ways:

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)

This affects about 90% of people with CRPS. Also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type I, RSD usually happens if an injury occurred, but didn’t affect the nerves in an affected limb directly. Up to 50% of all people diagnosed with RSD experience the disorder in only one side of the body as well.

RSD may progress through three different stages.


Stage I (Acute) may last up to three months. Throughout the course of this stage of the condition, symptoms may include pain, swelling, warmth of the affected part of the arm, and extreme sweating. Hair and nail growth may be faster than normal and joint pain is often felt during movement of the injured arm.


Stage II (Dystrophic) can last from three to twelve months. Swelling of the affected limb is constant and as a result, creases in the skin disappear. Skin temperature cools while fingernails become brittle. Widespread pain increases, as does rigidity and sensitivity of the affected area.


Stage III (Atrophic) lasts one year or more. The skin of the affected area has become tightly stretched, shiny, pale and dry. The area is also stiff, with a possible decrease in pain. At this point, there is a greatly diminished chance of getting a full range of motion back in the arm or limb.


If a nerve has been directly damaged (most likely in the neck to arm area), then displays signs of CRPS, you could have causalgia. Instead of just muscular and joint pain, causalgia can result in actual changes to bone density.

Causalgia remedies include anesthetic injections right into the affected area and/or surgery to help relieve the affected area.

What Causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Many different situations can lead to CRPS. A laceration that occurs during a motor vehicle or trucking accident can leave someone with symptoms of CRPS. An accident can cause pressure on a nerve, which can lead to CRPS. In general, any type of preventable personal injury accidents or incidents may leave a patient suffering from CRPS.

In many cases, the actual cause of CRPS is unknown. An injury or surgery can cause signs and symptoms of CRPS. Besides an injury, other causes of CRPS include:

  • Pressure on a nerve
  • Drugs for barbiturates and tuberculosis
  • Infection
  • Neck disorders such as degenerative arthritis
  • Stroke
  • Diseases of the brain
  • Heart attack
  • Breast cancer
  • Surgery

Since these conditions all can cause pain, the sympathetic reflex is triggered, resulting in CRPS. Nerve injuries may alter the way in which nerve impulses are sent, causing a short circuit that affects a specific area of the body.

Complex regional pain syndrome is a serious condition that can cause severe pain, swelling, and other symptoms in an arm or hand. Because the nerves are at the root of the problem, CRPS symptoms are often hard to control. It can even be more difficult to pinpoint the actual cause of the condition.

Learn more about the causes of complex regional pain syndrome and reflex sympathetic dystrophy from a knowledgeable attorney at our firm. If you think you suffered from CRPS and you live in the greater Austin area, contact us today and schedule your free initial consultation with an experienced lawyer.