Though any injury may lead to chronic pain, with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) you may develop severe pain from a minor injury like a sprain or small cut. Typically, the pain sensations only affect the injured limb, like the hand, arm, foot, or leg.

Though more and more people are familiar with CRPS, the pain condition is still a bit of a mystery to many, and it may go misdiagnosed.

At Advanced Interventional Pain Management, with offices in Texarkana, Hot Springs, Little Rock, El Dorado, Arkadelphia, and Mena, Arkansas, our pain management specialists, Dr. Jacob Abraham and Dr. Ryan Stuckey diagnose and treat many pain conditions, including CRPS.

We want to share what we know about CRPS, including its symptoms, how we diagnose the pain condition, and the treatment options.

What is complex regional pain syndrome?

CRPS is a chronic pain condition that causes ongoing, excessive pain, swelling, and changes in the texture, temperature, or color of your skin. The pain most often develops in the extremities, including the hands, feet, arms, or legs, but it can affect any part of the body.

Though researchers are still investigating the underlying cause of CRPS, they theorize that the pain condition develops from damage to or dysfunction of peripheral sensory neurons.

The damage or dysfunction alters the sensory information these nerves send to your central nervous system. These changes cause your nervous system to “overreact” to the pain signals — intensifying the sensation — without having the ability to shut off or stop the signal.

In most cases, injury or trauma to the thinnest sensory and autonomic nerves in the affected limb causes CRPS. In addition to sensory information — such as pain, itching, and temperature — these thin peripheral nerves also control the function of the small blood vessels and healthy cells in the area.

Damage to these nerves may help explain the symptoms associated with CRPS. However, not everyone with CRPS has a preceding injury or trauma. Researchers theorize that genetics or the immune system may also trigger the pain condition.

Symptoms of CRPS

Symptoms of CRPS vary in type and severity. However, pain is the most dominant and disabling symptom.

With CRPS, you may experience any of the following in the affected limb:

  • An intense burning or tingling sensation
  • Squeezing or tightness
  • An increase in pain sensations after touching or using the affected limb
  • Swelling
  • Change in skin color, texture, or temperature
  • Abnormal nail or hair growth (may grow fast or not at all)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Joint stiffness
  • A decrease in limb mobility

According to the Cleveland Clinic, you may start to experience symptoms of CRPS about four to six weeks after the injury or trauma. These symptoms may worsen over time, but get better once you start treatment.

Getting the right diagnosis

There’s no single test to diagnose CRPS, and it’s not uncommon for people to go misdiagnosed because of the variation in symptoms and causes. Also, many doctors are unfamiliar with CRPS.

When looking for answers to explain your pain symptoms, we can help. We are familiar with all types of pain conditions, including CRPS, and conduct a comprehensive history and physical exam to find the underlying cause of your pain.

To diagnose CRPS, we look for many of the symptoms noted above, including changes in the look or feel of your skin and an unusually high level of pain compared to the initial injury.

We also conduct a number of diagnostic tests to rule out other conditions that might explain your symptoms, such as nerve conduction studies, diagnostic imaging, or bone scans.

Treatment for CRPS

Getting an early diagnosis and treatment plan in place may prevent worsening of your CRPS. When left untreated, CRPS causes stiffening of the affected limb, which may increase the severity of your pain and decrease your limb’s function.

Initial treatment for CRPS may include physical therapy and medication. If your symptoms fail to improve or worsen over time, we may suggest  stellate ganglion blocks for the upper extremities or lumbar sympathetic blocks for the lower extremities. For more resilient pain,a spinal cord stimulator implant may be considered.

The outcome of your CRPS treatment depends on many factors, including the severity of the inciting injury and your overall health. With a mild case, recovery may take a few months to a few years, depending on how long it takes for the injured nerve to regrow.

If the nerve can’t regrow, CRPS symptoms may linger and ultimately lead to disability.

To schedule a CRPS consultation with our pain specialists, call one of our offices that’s convenient to you or request an appointment online today.