An Overview of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Here we take a look at CRPS – complex regional pain syndrome. This is a disorder of the central nervous system that usually affects the extremities.

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a disorder of the central nervous system and most commonly affects the hand, arm, foot or leg. It often develops after an injury although its cause is still unknown.

The symptoms of CRPS vary from person to person and include:

• Intense or exaggerated pain
• Hypersensitivity to touch, hot/cold
• Fluctuating swelling
• Changes in skin colour and temperature
• Changes in sweating, nail and hair growth
• Decreases strength and movement

Treating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

CRPS can be difficult to treat, however with early diagnosis, a treatment programme that uses a multifaceted approach can be very effective. Any underlying injury needs to be addressed and your doctor should be involved to prescribe medications aimed at controlling the pain. Physical therapies such as physiotherapy or hand therapy are an important part of treating CRPS and focus on desensitisation and graded motor imagery.

Desensitisation involves a gradual exposure of the affected body area to textures and touch reducing the hypersensitivity. This begins with soft textures such as a tissue or water and then progresses onto rougher textures as the condition improves.

Graded Motor Imagery (GMI) has been shown to be effective reducing the symptoms of CPRS through exercising the brain. Its involves three stages:

• The first focuses on differentiating between left and right body parts

• The second is performing imagined movements to activate the brain without triggering pain

• The third uses a mirror box.

Other aspects of CRPS that physical therapies can address include managing swelling, maintaining the movement around the involved joints and in later stages, strengthening the affected limb to allow the person to return to their normal daily activities.

If you think you may suffer from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and would like more information on how to manage it, please feel free to book an appointment with one of our experienced therapists.