Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or CRPS, is a progressive condition characterized by discomfort and pain that can affect your bones and joints, your skin, or your muscle tissue.
Women suffer from it far more frequently than men, and it appears most often among adults between the ages of 20 and 40.
CRPS can be caused by any number of different sorts of injuries, ranging from minor to severe (so, pretty much, any injury).
Damage to a nerve represents a major cause, as do small things like joints or, slightly worse, broken limbs.
However, most people don’t realize that even something as simple as a long period of immobility, like staying bed-ridden for days or weeks because of a broken limb, can leave you with lingering CRPS.
If you’re trying to figure out whether you’re suffering from CRPS or whether you’re just experiencing the normal pain associated with the wounding and healing process, look for a burning sensation (it’s normally pretty severe) and extreme sensitivity in the area where the wound has occurred.
If you’re also sweating, and swelling, or experiencing odd changes in your bone or muscle tissues, you just might be suffering from CRPS.
Get to your doctor right away, so you can take care of the problem before it gets worse.
CRPS can require surgery, but there are many other treatment paths available. When you do consult with a doctor, make sure they have experience in diagnosing CRPS. It’s a pretty straightforward medical exercise, but it’s always good to be safe.
What’s Actually Happening
CRPS has two other commonly-used names, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or RSD, (RSD) and Causalgia. It usually starts with a bone or join injury, or some kind of damage to the tissue or nerves.
What’s important to note in cases like these, however, is that the cause of CRPS and its onset may be weeks or months apart.
Just because the pain didn’t show up as soon as the injury did does not mean you’ve got a free ride.
If you’re starting to notice symptoms that line up with those outlined above—things like swelling and extreme sensitivity on your wound area—then it’s time to get to a medical professional.
It’s often been said that much pain is mental, and for this reason stress can seriously increase the level of pain you feel.
But medical help is easily acquired, and the condition can actually be relatively easily treated, if you take the right steps and actually visit a doctor.
Too many people seem to think that a problem like CRPS tends to just “go away on its own,” and put themselves through a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.
One of the biggest reasons for the development of CRPS has to do with nerve damage, or at least with nerves that are sending incorrect signals to the brain.
Every part of your body has special nerves designed to register pain and send it to the brain.
The brain is then responsible for organizing and categorizing these pain signals.
In the case of CRPS, a nerve has become damaged, or is being triggered for some reason when no actual pain stimulus is present.
Thus, like a broken electrical wire, the nerve just flashes pain constantly, and your brain tells you that you’re receiving lots of pain when in fact, there’s little actually touching or that should be causing any pain in that area.
This can have additional ramifications, as blood flow may also be constricted, which can cause additional pain.
Further, in some cases your body’s immune system kicks in and you start turning red and sweating, experiencing inflammation and muscle spasms, and feeling strangely warm.
What are the Symptoms of CRPS?
CRPS has many symptoms, but at its most basic, it’s characterized by a persistent and uncomfortable burning pain—more intense than makes sense, based on the injury you’ve experienced. Some of the other symptoms you might feel include:
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of motion
- Abnormal sweating
- Stiff joints
- Extreme pain in the presence from touches as light as clothing
- Warm, reddish skin that turns cool and bluish after several days or weeks
Symptoms do, on occasion, spread, normally up the line of the nerve from the injured area to your brain, and this can be exacerbated by emotional stresses.
Being in constant pain is itself something of an emotional stress, and represents one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with.
Know before you go: Epidurals
An epidural steroid injection (ESI) can help lessen the pain, and reduce the odd tingling sensations and numbness caused by nerve problems in your back or neck. There are two types of injections:
Lumbar: used when the problems center in the lower back: you’ll get one of these if you suffer from sciatica, or from stenosis of the spine.
Cervical: if your chronic regional pain centers around your neck, you’ll probably be given one of these.
If you find that the pain you’re experiencing originated in your lower back, and has since begun to travel down one leg—as is often the case with those suffering sciatica—you’ll probably benefit greatly from an epidural.
Again, early treatment of paramount importance, and people who get the problem treated quickly often find that even these treatments are more effective than among those who have waited a long time to deal with the problem.
Of course, the amount of relief and the duration of that relief will vary between people, but most people report that the pain lessened or vanished for up to three months.
Talk to your doctor about other pain management techniques to help you cope with the stress of feeling persistent pain.