Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain disorder. CRPS usually begins after trauma such as an injury to the tissue, bone or nerves of your limb (arm or leg). Although the symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next, there is one symptom that all people with CRPS have. Everyone has pain that feels much worse than you would expect for the injury and that continues long after the injury should have healed.

CRPS can make every part of your life more difficult – your family, work and social life. However, there are treatments to help you feel better and cope with the changes in your life. Every person with CRPS responds to treatment in a different way. You may have one or a combination of treatments including physical therapy, medication, and cognitive behavioral therapy. While a small number of people with CRPS are eventually cured, most will need treatment for a long time. The long-term outcome is usually better if your CRPS is diagnosed and treated early.

What are the Types of CRPS?

CRPS-I: This is also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD). CRPS-I refers to cases of CRPS that do not involve nerve injury.

CRPS-II: This is also called causalgia. CRPS-II refers to those CRPS cases in which one or more nerves are injured.

Who is Affected?

CRPS is more common in women than men.

The average age person affected by CRPS is in the mid-30s, although children and older adults can also be affected.

Signs and Symptoms

Often, the first symptom of CRPS is pain that gets worse, instead of better, over time. This is the main reason that most people seek medical advice and treatment. The pain you feel in your CRPS-involved limb may be burning, throbbing, shooting or sharp. People with CRPS can have a wide variety of symptoms that may come and go in the early stages of the disorder. You may have one or more of these signs and symptoms:

  • Skin color changes – Your skin may change to a color that is not normal or healthy. It may turn red, blue, white, pale or blotchy. For example, a left hand with CRPS may be abnormally pale or blue while the right hand looks normal.
  • Skin temperature changes – The skin on your CRPS-involved limb may be much warmer or cooler than the rest of your skin.
  • Abnormal sweating – Your CRPS-involved limb may sweat much more or less than the healthy areas around it. It also may not sweat at all.
  • Overly sensitive skin – This is also called allodynia. Your CRPS-involved limb may be so sensitive that even a light touch or cool or warm air can cause pain.
  • Hyperalgesia – This is the medical term for feeling pain in a more extreme way than normal. For example, a pinprick against the skin of a person with hyperalgesia may feel like a knife stab.
  • Joint problems – Your affected joint may feel painful and swollen. You may avoid using the joint because it hurts. If you try to avoid moving your CRPS-involved joint, it can become stiff and more painful.
  • Muscle problems – Your involved muscles may have spasms, tremors or weakness.
  • Hair, nail and skin changes – The hair and nails on your CRPS-involved limb may grow faster or slower. Your nails may become thick and brittle. Your skin may become thin and shiny.
  • Swelling

More severe problems may occur in the later stages of CRPS. Your CRPS-involved limb may have constant, intense pain and smaller, weaker muscles. Your involved joint may become so stiff that it locks in a certain position and causes long-term disability. Your CRPS may spread through your limb and into other body parts. Your bones in the involved area may become less dense and may break more easily.