Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome is a neurological condition primarily caused by improper function of the central nervous system. For those of you who don’t remember high school anatomy, the central nervous system connects the brain, the brain stem, and the spinal cord.
CRPS comes in two different forms, differentiated by the presence of lesions in the nerve tendrils themselves. Type I, also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD—or Sudeck’s atrophy—occurs when the doctors can’t find any lesions in the nerves.
Type II, on the other hand, once known as “causalgia,” occurs when an obvious nerve lesion has occurred. Your symptoms will vary depending on the type of CRPS you have. In general, either type can be caused by any of the following:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Brain & spinal cord injuries
- Parkinson’s disease
The central nervous system is a marvelous but delicate machine. When damaged, the symptoms can be truly difficult to cope with. The intense pain that some patients suffering from this symptom experience can require lifestyle changes and intense pain management measures. Neurological pain, caused by malfunctioning nerves, can reach severe levels, causing severe debilitation. And the symptoms can worsen with time.
Because emotional stressors are often a big reason for the worsening of the pain, and the constant, agonizing pain itself represents an emotional stressor, many people with untreated CRPS report physical and mental impairment, an increasing sense of depression, and often start to withdraw from their habitual daily lives.
All of these symptoms, and the debilitating effects that constant, severe pain can have mean that CRPS can definitely qualify as a disability. The condition certainly affects one’s ability to perform everyday activities, including caring for yourself, going to and from work (and, for that matter, doing any work), and enjoying social activities. If your symptoms are severe enough that you’re having trouble with any of these, then you may very well qualify for disability.
Now, it should be mentioned that not everyone who suffers from CRPS is actually disabled. Each case is slightly different, and your case, while it may resemble others, is ultimately unique. And since the disability produces no physical signs, or at least very few (as opposed to, say, an amputee), it can prove difficult for others in your life, including those in the medical profession, to understand just how debilitating it can be. This means that when you go to find a doctor to help you deal with this case, it’s important to look for a doctor with a specialty in CRPS, or at least one who’s got some experience dealing with it.
But even upon diagnosis, treating CRPS can prove chronically difficult, since cases often are so incredibly unique, and no known cure exists.
Many patients spend time and money on even more painful procedures, only to find at long last that they did not work; they simply have to suffer the consequences of having the disorder.
Medical professionals who attempt to help people deal with the effects of chronic pain often turn to prescriptions, some of which may seem to have nothing to do with pain. These can include anticonvulsants, antidepressants, narcotics, and even muscle relaxers and insomnia medications.
All of this is in pursuit of calming the rapidly-firing pain receptors in the damaged nervous system. Some of these treatments you may find effective, but none so far have been shown to actually cure it.
CRPS and Disability
It’s probably pretty obvious to observe that being in constant pain can alter your life dramatically. But often, people who don’t have this problem don’t realize just how far those ramifications can go. If you were in an accident and lost a limb, nobody would expect you to become an avid marathon runner. But when your problem is invisible, like CRPS, and debilitating, as it is, the changes can be slow and gradual, but crippling nonetheless.
The Impact of Constant Pain
Chronic pain can impact your life in many ways:
- limited activities
- lifestyle changes
- weak muscles
- physical atrophy
- withdrawal from social activities
- impaired memory and concentration
Many people find that severe pain leads to what has come to be called “the chronic pain spiral”; the pain they feel comes to define their lives. But if you’ve been experiencing any of these effects for more than twelve months, Social Security may be able to offer you some disability benefits (SSD or SSI). The Social Security Administration considers CRPS and RSD to be one and the same problem.
Treatments aimed at lessening the impact of CRPS on your life and lifestyle fall generally into two categories: passive, and active.
Procedures like surgery, medications, or hands-on therapy all fall under the “passive” label. But passive treatments alone are rarely enough to help combat CRPS. An active approach is often necessary.
Active treatments may involve working on your posture and positioning to keep those pain nerves from firing, relaxation exercises, mental exercises like limiting negative thought patterns, and stranger treatments like sleep hygiene and improving communication skills.