Complex regional pain syndrome, previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, is a condition marked by intense pain, swelling, stiffness and discoloration of the skin. The hands are most commonly affected, but individuals can also feel the symptoms in the arms, legs and feet. OPTIMAL Pain & Regenerative Medicine offers various pain management treatments for this condition for patients living in the Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas, Texas area.

What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome is a chronic pain condition that typically occurs after an injury or trauma to a particular limb. Previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, the condition causes a group of symptoms to an extremity. These symptoms include:

  • Pain, typically a burning sensation
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Sweating
  • Abnormal movement
  • Skin discoloration

Complex regional pain syndrome includes several stages. These stages include:

  • Acute: Typically in the three to six month time frame. Symptoms include burning, flushing, sweating, swelling, pain and tenderness in the extremity.
  • Dystrophic: Also typically in the three to six month time frame. Symptoms include early skin changes such as shiny, thickened skin and contracture with persistent pain and diminished swelling and flushing.
  • Atrophic: Typically a long-standing duration. Symptoms include a loss of motion and function of the involved limb and thinning of the fatty layers under the skin.

The condition is well-known for its burning or “pins and needles” pain sensation. The pain may spread to include the entire arm or leg, even if the injury is associated with only one finger or toe. Individuals may experience sweating, changes in temperature and discoloration of the skin because of the abnormal circulation caused by potential nerve damage.

What Causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

The true cause of complex regional pain syndrome is unknown, but the condition is commonly associated with an injury or illness. The most common ailments include sprains, strains, fractures, bruises or other soft tissue injury, nerve entrapment, shingles, breast cancer, stroke and certain medical procedures.

Individuals with reflex sympathetic dystrophy usually present an abnormality in the peripheral nerve that carries pain messages and signals to the blood vessels. This abnormality is believed to trigger abnormal neurological function in the brain and spinal cord, leading to the wide number of symptoms.

How is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Treated?

Complex regional pain syndrome is diagnosed by the individual’s medical history and symptoms that match the medical definition of the condition. A physical examination will typically be performed in the original injured area, as well as X-rays, an MRI and bone scans to confirm the diagnosis.

It is critical for an individual to visit a physician at the beginning of reflex sympathetic dystrophy symptoms to prevent the condition from developing into a later stage with advanced complications.

Treatment options include rehabilitation therapy, a variety of medications for pain and inflammation, spinal cord stimulation, injection therapy and nerves blocks. Treatment will depend on the individual’s symptoms and condition stage.

OPTIMAL Pain & Regenerative, located in the Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas area, is trained and experienced at treating the painful conditions of complex regional pain syndrome, formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Please contact our team if you or a loved one suffers from this condition.

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