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What Causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome is a rare medical condition affecting a limb, typically after some form of trauma to that limb. Symptoms may include chronic and/or extreme pain, swelling, sensitivity, joint stiffness, decreased mobility, tremors, fixed abnormal posture, changes in skin color and temperature changes in the affected area. Chronic regional pain syndrome is believed to be caused by nervous system damage or malfunction, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

According to NINDS, there are two primary forms of chronic regional pain syndrome, CRPS-I and CRPS-II. CRPS-1, previously called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, is the term used to describe patients suffering from this condition without confirmed nerve injury. Patients with confirmed nerve injury may be diagnosed with CRPS-II. Both conditions have the same symptoms and treatment, and symptoms may vary in severity and duration from patient to patient.

There is currently no known cure for chronic regional pain syndrome, but treatment may alleviate symptoms to help a patient live a more normal and pain-free life.

  • Such treatments may include:
  • Medication for pain, inflammation or swelling;
  • Rehabilitation therapy, using exercise to help improve blood flow, flexibility, strength, and function;
  • Psychotherapy to treat depression or other psychological conditions that often accompany chronic regional pain syndrome;
  • Sympathetic nerve blocks, which may provide temporary pain relief in the affected area;
  • Surgical sympathectomy, a controversial surgical procedure that destroys nerves to provide pain relief; and
  • Spinal cord or other neural stimulation.

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