What Is Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Woman with a headache
Woman with a headache

Chronic regional pain syndrome is more commonly called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). It is a rare, chronic pain condition that only affects one body part, hence the term “regional” in the name. Patients will experience continuous pain and other symptoms, usually in a hand, foot, arm or leg. As of 2011, little is known about this syndrome. There is no cure and treatment is focused on alleviating symptoms.

While the exact cause of chronic regional pain syndrome is unknown, it is typically associated with an injury in the affected body part. There are two types of this syndrome. Patients with type one develop the condition after an injury or illness that did not affect the nerves. Those with type two did suffer from direct nerve damage. Some researchers also theorize that a patient may develop chronic regional pain syndrome after the immune system overreacts, triggering inflammation.

The most obvious symptom of chronic regional pain syndrome is intense pain, which may also cause a burning sensation in the affected body part. Patients will likely notice that skin in that area is more sensitive and prone to drastic temperature changes. For example, an affected arm will at times be unusually sweaty or abnormally cold for no discernible reason. Muscle spasms, joint pain, and swelling are also likely to occur. The skin may also become discolored, the muscles can suffer from atrophy, and some people may notice that they are unable to move the muscles as well as they used to.

Chronic regional pain syndrome can be tricky to diagnose, particularly when the symptoms are not yet advanced. The doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask the patient about recent injuries or illnesses. He may also use a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to examine changes in the tissues. Sympathetic nervous system tests can detect discrepancies in blood flow and skin temperatures. Other tests that may be helpful include bone scans and x-rays.

Early treatment is essential for successfully combating chronic regional pain syndrome. Often, doctors will recommend a combination of therapies, such as medications, physical therapy, and electrical nerve stimulation. Physical therapy may help provide a greater range of motion and strength to affected muscles and joints. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machines may help alleviate chronic pain by interfering with the nerve endings.

A wide variety of medicines can be used, ranging from over-the-counter pain relievers to prescription antidepressants, which can help relieve nerve pain. Corticosteroids can treat swelling and topical medicines, such as lidocaine, can relieve skin sensitivity. The doctor may also inject an anesthetic called a sympathetic nerve-blocking medication that can treat intense pain. Some patients may be candidates for intrathecal drug pumps, which are implanted under the skin and release pain medication automatically.

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Discussion Comments

anon208087

Excellent, keep up doing the great work. This is very valuable information and I liked it a lot.

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    • Woman with a headache
      Woman with a headache