Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic condition which causes pain and other life-changing symptoms. CRPS usually affects a person’s limbs, such as an arm or a leg, and usually develops after a trauma such as a stroke, car accident or an injury. CRPS symptoms are not the same in every case, and though there are some similarities felt by some sufferers, it is entirely possible to meet someone else living with CRPS who have none of the same symptoms as you.
What is CRPS?
CRPS is a chronic condition that is typically triggered by a traumatic injury to a limb, but the pain does not subside as would usually happen during a usual recovery. Those suffering from CRPS tend to experience pain that is greatly amplified and disproportionate to the severity of the injury itself.
There are two different kinds of CRPS. Type 1, also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS), typically occurs after a minor or major tissue injury to a limb. According to the Mayo Clinic website, around 90% of CRPS sufferers have Type 1. Type 2 CRPS occurs after a distinct nerve injury, but unlike CRPS type 1, Type 2 does not migrate from the original site of the injury.
How CRPS Develops
Anyone can develop CRPS following an accident or injury but it is unknown why some people go on to develop the condition following trauma while others will go on to make a full recovery. Many cases of CRPS occur after a forceful trauma to a limb from incidents such as road traffic accidents, but, more rarely, it can be caused by heart attacks, surgery and infections. The exact cause of the disorder is still unknown. It is thought to be caused by an injury or dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous systems causing those suffering from CRPS to experience severe pain.
It is also believed by some that the symptoms are too complex to be as a result of one factor and that CRPS is caused by several different conditions. It has also been suggested that genes may play a role in who develops CRPS after an injury or trauma.
CRPS Symptoms Explained
The characteristic symptom of CRPS is pain. Commonly described as a burning, intense pain specific to a single location on one of the body’s limbs, it is a pain which is out of proportion to the severity of the injury or the trauma which had occurred. CRPS pain is chronic, often getting worse over time rather than improving and often leads to the development of further symptoms. The symptoms and their severity vary from person to person and may change.
What are CRPS Symptoms?
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Extreme sensitivity to pain that is out of proportion to the injury or trauma
- Excessive or prolonged pain after contact- as the affected area has increased sensitivity, even light contact can cause extreme pain
- Continuous pain that gets worse over time
- Experiencing pain from something that shouldn’t be painful such as a light touch or a change in temperature
- Changes in skin, hair and nails – skin may become blotchy, dry or scaly, nails crack and can become grooved or brittle, and hair often becomes thin
- A decrease in range of motion of the affected limb or limbs
- Stiffness of limbs
- Insomnia- difficulty sleeping
- Changes in skin temperature- the affected limb may feel warmer or cooler than the opposite limb
- Changes in skin texture
- Tremors and muscle spasms
- Stiffness and swelling of the affected joints
The symptoms that usually occur first are pain, swelling, changes in temperature and hypersensitivity. The condition is irreversible and may spread to other limbs in the body, but, with a combination of medicine and other treatments, most people experience a reduction in their pain within a few years.
Sometimes, although rarely, CRPS can cause complications, including ulcers and skin infections, muscle atrophy and muscle contractures in which the muscles shorten causing loss of movement.
Making a CRPS Diagnosis
These are the most common symptoms experienced by people suffering from CRPS, but it is essential that you seek medical advice rather than making a self-diagnosis. A medical professional can carry out the assessments and tests required to ensure the symptoms you are experiencing are indicative of CRPS.
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