What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex pain syndrome solutions

Your body’s nervous system is an amazing piece of complex bioengineering. Providing sensory, motor, and autonomic control for your brain, everything you do depends on billions of tiny chemical interactions performing with precision and efficiency. It’s perhaps then no surprise that medical science still hasn’t gotten a complete understanding of how the nervous system functions.

This is particularly true when it comes to certain disorders that create sensations of pain without a detectable physical cause. One such condition is called complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS. Usually affecting one extremity, either hand, foot, arm, or leg, CRPS is chronic, lasting six months or more, and the pain is often constant.

Causes of CRPS

The mystery of CRPS begins with its classifications. CRPS-I has no known nerve injury to account for the pain the patient feels. In the past, this was called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, and it comprises about 90% of CRPS diagnoses. CRPS-II was once known as causalgia, and its pain is associated with a known nerve injury, even if the injury isn’t consistent with the syndrome’s pain. Despite these classifications, treatment for both is usually similar.

CRPS often develops following a trauma to the limb suffering pain, even if there’s no directly observed nerve damage to the limb. Direct traumas include things such as fractures, crushing force injuries, and even amputation. Indirect traumas can also trigger CRPS. Incidents such as heart attacks, surgery, infections, and sprains could be behind CRPS episodes. Not everyone who suffers such trauma will develop CRPS, another mysterious aspect of this condition.

Treating CRPS with medication

Because there’s often no direct origin for CRPS, pain management is often crucially important for the patient’s physical and mental well-being. Chronic pain can place a psychological and emotional burden on you. The unrelenting nature of CRPS pain can interfere with virtually every aspect of normal living.

Medication therapies range from over-the-counter pain relievers to opioid medications in carefully controlled doses. Some antidepressant and anticonvulsant medications relieve the pain of CRPS, even if you’re not suffering from depressions or convulsions. Corticosteroids may provide both pain relief and mobility improvements, but there are limits on how often these can be administered.

Nerve block anesthetic injections may change the way nerves transmit pain signals, and sometimes bone-loss prevention medications are prescribed if atrophy and bone loss are complications of your CRPS.

Other CRPS therapies

Physical therapy can extend your mobility, and it potentially reduces the intensity of pain for some patients. Psychological counseling may help you with emotional support and coping skills since living with chronic pain often takes a heavy toll. There are a number of other techniques that may provide relief from CRPS symptoms, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), spinal cord stimulation, drug pumps, biofeedback, and mirror therapy.

It’s believed that the earlier treatment starts after the onset of CRPS, the better chance it has for a good long-term prognosis. There’s likely some trial-and-error necessary to establish the right pain management routine for you, so contact Metro Denver Pain Management today to arrange a personal consultation.  

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