What is CRPS?
I think we can all agree that being in pain sucks. There are many conditions that cause pain, but only a few that have pain in the name. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, is a condition which, like its name implies, is very painful. It was previously referred to as Shoulder Hand Syndrome. It’s a type of chronic pain that mostly affects your hand, arm or a leg. It usually develops after another type of injury.
I have seen this condition mostly in the hand, however I have seen lower extremities affected as well. This is something that is not fully understood. Medical science isn’t sure exactly why this pain happens. It is thought to be an over-activity of a person’s peripheral or central nervous system.
As the name implies, the first symptom is pain. This pain is way out of proportion to what it should be for the specific injury that occurred. It’s usually described as a burning or throbbing. The area is usually extremely sensitive to colder temperatures but heat can bring relief. I had a patient recently who used very descriptive words to explain her pain, although most are not appropriate to mention here.
Your skin can be extremely sensitive to the touch and anything covering your skin can cause intense pain. There can even be a different color and texture to your skin where it may look shiny. Joint tightness and swelling are common. This can cause weakness and muscle atrophy. This makes it a lot more difficult to use this particular limb. These symptoms can last anywhere from days to years. It’s most likely to improve when treated early on.
The majority of treatment, at least initially, aims to reduce the painful symptoms. Modalities such as heat can be very soothing. Patients with CRPS can respond very well to electric stimulation at well. Due to the sensitive nature of this condition desensitization techniques are often used as well such as massage techniques, range of motion techniques, and using strengthening of the affected limb. All this improves blood flow and restores damage done to the nervous system. Medications can be beneficial which are proscribed under the direction of your physician.
Any way you look at it, this condition is not fun, however you should not have to go through this alone. A licensed physical therapist can assist you to reduce your pain and get back the use of whatever part is hurting. If this is something that we can help you with, please give us a call.
Written by Rod Walker PT