What Is Involved in CRPS Treatment?

B. Chisholm
B. Chisholm
Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a syndrome of intense pain, usually in an arm, leg, hand or foot. The exact mechanism of the pain is not fully understood, and therefore CRPS treatment is more symptomatic than curative. Depending on the severity, cause of the pain, and symptoms, CRPS treatment may include non-drug treatments and a range of drugs to treat symptoms, or a combination thereof.

Usually CRPS is an aftereffect of a previous injury or surgery where nerve damage has occurred. It results in severe pain, usually only in one limb. It may also cause extreme sensitivity of the skin to even the lightest touch or change in temperature. The pain may become so severe that it is debilitating to the point of loss of function of the affected part of the body.

CRPS treatment is often a process of trial and error, and a number of different treatments may be used before the best one is found. Non-drug therapy may include physiotherapy, hot or cold compression, electrical pulse therapy and visualization exercises. It is important, especially where CRPS has caused loss of function, that treatment incorporates strengthening exercises to prevent further loss of function and bone loss.

A number of different classes of drugs may be used in CRPS treatment. The choice will be made by the treating doctor and will depend on numerous factors, including severity and other conditions or medications of the specific patient. Drug treatment is used to treat the symptoms, as there is no known cure for CRPS.

Topical or oral analgesics, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), antidepressants or anticonvulsants such as gabapentin, and nerve-blocking medicine like anesthetics may be used to treat the pain. In some cases corticosteroids may be used that reduce swelling and allow for more free movement of the affected limb. Treatment may be chronic, and prescribed dosages should never be exceeded.

In some unresponsive cases, spinal cord stimulation may be tried. This may involve the insertion of a tiny device into the spinal column that releases electrical stimuli. This method has showed some success in some patients.

CRPS treatment is a multi-pronged process and differs from patient to patient. It may involve a number of health-care workers, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and neurologists, all of whom will work in consultation with each other. People suffering from CRPS may become depressed or anxious, and mental health should also be watched closely and treated if necessary.

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      Woman with hand on her hip