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COMPLEX REGIONAL PAIN SYNDROME

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Severe pain in an arm or leg may be an indication of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), especially if you have had prior surgery or injury in the area. The constant pain may be shooting, sharp, or burning, and lasts longer and is out of proportion, or more severe, than you would expect for the injury or surgery you’ve had. While CRPS can affect anyone, it is most common in middle-aged women. While many with CRPS slowly get better over time, others may have long-lasting pain or disability.

Symptoms of CRPS usually affect one arm or leg, and may include:

  • Blotchy or shiny skin
  • Swelling, stiffness, weakness, or shaking in the affected limb
  • Sweating, numbness, or tingling
  • Difficulty sleeping from pain
  • Changes in sensitivity to cold or touch
  • Changes in skin temperature fluctuating between sweaty and cold
  • Skin texture changes
  • Sparse hair or nail growth
  • Joint damage
  • Muscle tremors
  • Mood swings or anxiety

How Is CRPS Diagnosed?

Although the condition is still not well understood, CRPS is not just in your imagination, the pain and disability that results is genuine. Diagnosis can be challenging, though, because the condition is not very common, and there is no definitive test to diagnose it. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you about your pain and may compare your healthy limb to the painful one. For example, if your right arm hurts, your doctor will compare it to the left arm. More tests may be necessary to rule out other possible causes and to make an accurate diagnosis.

CRPS Treatment

Treating CRPS involves pain management, physical therapy, self-care measures, and possible psychotherapy to address the emotional toll CRPS takes. Most patients with CRPS see a physical and/or occupational therapist to address pain symptoms. While it may seem odd that treatment involves moving the affected limb causing severe pain, research shows how physical therapy is an important part of CRPS treatment.

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