Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a condition that affects many people, but is currently not well understood in the medical world. Those living with the condition can feel as though there’s very little support for them, and that they have to live with their pain on their own.
There are options for people with the condition though, and this guide has everything you need to know to manage your symptoms yourself.
What Is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
Complex regional pain syndrome most often comes about after an injury to a limb. It causes pain that is disproportional to the original injury, and can be much more severe and longer lasting than usual. (1)
Usually, the pain is confined to the limb that was injured, but it can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. The skin of the affected body part can become so sensitive that the slightest touch, bump or even change in temperature can cause intense pain. The affected area can also become stiff or swollen, or suffer fluctuating color or temperature.
Can complex regional pain syndrome go away?
In most cases, it will go away over time. However, in some cases the symptoms may never go away, and the patient may live with CRPS for some time. With help from medical professionals though, you can get some relief from the pain and manage your symptoms.
CRPS Signs and Symptoms
What are the complex regional pain syndromes symptoms that you should be looking out for? You may have CRPS if you’re experiencing the following: (2)
- Burning, tingling or stinging sensations in the affected limb following an injury. This paresthesia can be debilitating and very painful, depending on the patient and their experience of chronic regional pain syndrome.
- Periods of time where pain can get worse, usually referred to as ‘flare-ups.’
- Strange sensations in the affected limb. For example, it may feel as though your limb is smaller or bigger than the unaffected limb, or you may feel as though you don’t have control over the limb itself.
- Hair and nail changes in the affected limb may occur. They may grow more slowly or more quickly than in the unaffected limb, and the nails may become grooved.
- Difficulty in moving the affected limb.
- Alternating changes to your skin — for example, at times it may be hot and dry, and at others it can be blue and cold.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Depression and anxiety, which can come about due to the strain of living with chronic pain.
There are two different types of complex regional pain syndrome, usually referred to as Type 1 and Type 2: (3)
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type 1: This is often known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSDS. This affects 90 percent of sufferers of CRPS. CRPS type 1 comes about after damage to a limb that didn’t directly affect a nerve.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type 2: This version of CRPS occurs after direct damage to a nerve in the affected limb. In this type, the pain does not migrate from the affected limb, as it can do in Type 1.
Causes and Risk Factors of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
As mentioned earlier in this guide, the most common cause of complex regional pain syndrome is an injury to the affected limb. The injuries that can cause this include: (4)
- Sprains or strains
- Soft tissue injury (such as burns, bruises or cuts)
- Limb immobilization
It is now known why some people experience CRPS after experiencing such an injury in their limb, while others do not. There is some data to suggest that the cause can be genetic, but further research needs to be done. (5)
This condition can come about as a result of a stroke, which happens when the brain receives a lack of blood and oxygen. This can have a knock-on effect on the rest of the body, damaging nerves and leading to CRPS. (6)
There’s also some links being drawn between heart health and complex regional pain syndrome. (7) Some people have been having pain that mimics heart attacks, but is actually linked to CRPS that has migrated from a limb that has been affected by the condition. (8)
It’s commonly quite difficult to diagnose complex regional pain syndrome symptoms, as there’s no one test that can identify them. If you present to your doctor with the symptoms listed above, you’ll need to have a lot of other illnesses and conditions ruled out to ensure you’re not living with another condition instead. That’s why it’s so important to go to the doctor as soon as you feel that something is wrong. If you do this, then you can undergo treatment much more quickly.
One illness that will be checked for is fibromyalgia. Are CRPS and fibromyalgia the same? In short, they are not the same illness. (10) However, it is possible for you to have both conditions at the same time. Fibromyalgia is different to CRPS, as the pain in this illness is often widespread. In fact, if you live with the condition you can feel all over aches, as if your body has been overworked. This is different to the symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome, which usually contains the pain to a limb.
If you’ve been living with CRPS symptoms, there are treatments you can undertake to help you feel healthier, and live with a lessened amount of pain. There’s no one specified treatment for someone with complex regional pain syndrome, as it will affect everyone differently. Your doctor will examine you and your symptoms, and recommend some of the following complex regional pain syndrome treatment options to you: (11)
Physical therapy: This is a practical option for many sufferers of CRPS. It helps them restore function to the affected limb, and lessen pain through strengthening the muscle. It will also combat limb weakening through lack of use, so the earlier you start this treatment, the better. Complex regional pain syndrome physical therapy will involve both physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
Psychological help: Living with any kind of chronic pain will affect you psychologically, so it makes sense to address this element of complex regional pain syndrome in your treatment. This most often takes the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, to help you manage your pain.
Drugs: Of course, with any kind of chronic pain, you’ll need some kind of medical assistance in order to manage the pain you feel. What you receive will depend on the nature of your pain, and what your doctor thinks is best for you. In many instances, over the counter pain relievers will be used to help manage the pain. Sometimes, antidepressants such as amitriptyline, can be used as it helps reduce pain signals to the brain. Steroids are often another option given in order to help manage pain.
5 Natural Remedies for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Of course, as well as conventional treatments you can start looking into natural remedies to help manage your complex regional pain syndrome. Here are some options you have to help you manage your pain:
1. Try taking magnesium
The problem with chronic pain is that you’re always taking pain killers, which come with their own set of problems. If you’re worried about always taking pain relief medicines, a good natural alternative is magnesium. It can help reduce the signals of pain to the brain, meaning you feel less pain without the side effects of pain killers. (12)
2. Take vitamin C to reduce inflammation
Inflammation can be found at the root of most diseases, and it’s certainly a problem with complex regional pain syndrome. If you’re dealing with inflammation, vitamin C can help reduce it naturally This vitamin is great for many things, but it’s perfect for you as it aids in wound healing, neutralizes free radicals and helps synthesize collagen, which is especially important if you’re experiencing joint pain.
3. Have an Epsom salt bath
In point one above, magnesium was mentioned as a powerful pain reliever. If you’re looking to try it out, an Epsom salt bath could be just the thing to help alleviate pain. This is thanks to Epsom salts being able to reduce inflammation, perfect for you as you deal with pain in a limb. Simply soak your affected limb in an Epsom salt bath, and you’ll feel the difference right away.
4. Drink bone broth
Bone broth isn’t something you’d think of when it comes to updating your diet, but it’s an amazing way to supplement your body with minerals that are often missing from your diet. It includes that all important magnesium, sulphur, silicon and calcium, amongst others. All these minerals can help with pain relief and the reduction of inflammation in your affected limb.
5. Try dry needling
The thought of needles may be too much to bear when you’re already in pain, but dry needling really can help reduce the pain you already feel on a daily basis. (13) It focuses in trigger points to help reduce pain and give you more range of movement in the affected limb.
Prevention of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
When it comes to complex regional pain syndrome, the only real way to avoid it is to avoid being injured. Of course, if you’re usually careful and don’t take unnecessary risks in your everyday life, then you’ll be at less risk for developing this condition. As it stands though, anyone who suffers even a minor injury is at risk of CRPS. (14)
Is there any cure for complex regional pain syndrome?
Right now, there isn’t anything that can cure the syndrome directly. Only with the right care and treatments can you manage the pain. In most cases, the pain will lessen over time, but it may not go away totally. Be aware of this when you’re looking into treatments for your complex regional pain syndrome.
Is complex regional pain syndrome a disability?
In some cases, it can be considered a disability and you can claim assistance for the condition for as long as you have it. You’ll need to prove that it’s been causing issues for you for at least 12 months, with the help of your doctor. (15)
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Key Points
Complex regional pain syndrome sounds like a worrying diagnosis to get, but with the right treatment you can carry on with your life as it was before. Here are the main points you need to remember:
- Complex regional pain disorder usually comes about after an injury to a limb, which is disproportional to the original injury itself.
- The syndrome can often get better over time, but right now there is no real cure for it.
- To be diagnosed with CRPS, you’ll need to have several other illnesses and conditions ruled out, as there’s no one test for it.
- Treatment often includes a mix of pain relievers, physical therapy, and psychological help to help manage the pain.
- Anyone is at risk of complex regional pain syndrome if they sustain an injury.
There are five natural remedies that are worth trying if you have CRPS, these are:
- Try taking magnesium as a natural pain killer
- Take vitamin C to reduce inflammation
- Take an Epsom salt bath
- Drink bone broth
- Try dry needling
Complex regional pain syndrome stages will look different in everyone, and you’ll need different treatment depending on the pain you experience. No matter how you experience it though, there will be a treatment for you. Try the natural remedies outlined here, and you’ll see a real difference.
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