Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that affects the nerves, skin, muscles, and bones. The condition is caused by injury to or dysfunction of a nerve, leading to abnormal signaling between the nerve and the brain.
This can cause the affected limb to become excessively sensitive to pain and other stimuli. CRPS can result from any number of causes, including forceful trauma, surgery, infection, or a stroke.
There are two types of CRPS, namely CRPS type I and type II. CRPS type I, previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), often develops with no identifiable nerve injury. On the other hand, CRPS type II, formerly known as causalgia, develops due to a specific nerve injury.
Symptoms of CRPS
CRPS typically affects one limb, such as an arm or leg, but can also affect other parts of the body. The most common symptoms of CRPS include:
- Severe burning or stabbing pain
- Sensitivity to touch or cold
- Stiffness and weakness in the affected limb
- Swelling, redness, and warmth in the affected area
- Changes in skin color or texture
- Abnormal sweating
- Changes in nail and hair growth
- Loss of range of motion
Symptoms of CRPS can be severe and debilitating, and can greatly impact a person’s quality of life and ability to work, socialize, or enjoy the simple pleasure of life. Without adequate treatment, it can also lead to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Stages of CRPS
CPRS develops in three distinct stages:
Stage 1 (Acute)
Stage one of CRPS usually starts within a week after the triggering event or trauma. Symptoms are generally severe and include sharp or burning pain in the affected area, swelling, sensitivity to touch, abnormal sweating, changes in skin temperature, muscle spasms/tingling, and decreased range of motion.
Stage 2 (Sub-Acute)
The sub-acute stage usually begins after around three months have passed since the onset of symptoms. During this stage, changes such as discoloration, skin thinning/thickening, increased sweating, brittle nails, and hair loss become more noticeable. Joint stiffness and swelling may also occur at this stage, along with increased sensitivity to temperature changes.
Stage 3 (Chronic)
The third and final stage of CRPS is known as the chronic or atrophic stage, which usually occurs after six months or more have passed since the onset of symptoms.
At this point, the pain becomes less severe as numbness sets in due to progressive nerve and muscle degeneration. Other symptoms include dryness in the affected area that causes skin cracking and peeling. Muscle atrophy during this stage can also lead to permanent deformity.
Can CRPS Pain Come and Go?
CRPS is a chronic condition, which means that it can last for months or even years. For some people, CRPS pain can be a constant debilitating presence in their lives, while others may experience fluctuating levels of pain. In some cases, the pain may subside for a few hours or days before returning.
And while CPRS is considered a long-term condition, for most people, symptoms tend to improve gradually over time and may eventually disappear for good. However, this may be after months or years of excruciating pain.
CRPS is a chronic pain condition that can manifest in different ways for different people. If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the affected limb, leading to disability. As such, it is vital to seek professional help as soon as possible to prevent the condition from progressing to the chronic stage and help improve the chances of recovery.
Although there is no cure, treatments such as physical therapy and medications can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.