Perhaps you live in the Northwest and love outdoor activities, especially in the winter. But you’ve noticed that pain from a healed broken wrist flares up randomly but regularly when you’re outside in the cold for more than a few minutes at a time. You may be suffering from chronic pain.
What Is CRPS?
“Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a broad term describing excessive and prolonged pain and inflammation that follows an injury to an arm or leg. CRPS has acute (recent, short-term) and chronic (lasting greater than six months) forms. CRPS used to be known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) and causalgia. People with CRPS have changing combinations of spontaneous pain or excess pain that is much greater than normal following something as mild as a touch.”
How Long Will It Last?
CRPS is a chronic pain that lasts several months without an obvious cause. According to the Cleveland Clinic, chronic pain continues and lasts longer than six months. This kind of pain can persist even after the illness or injury that triggered it has gone away or healed. Pain signals can be active for years. CRPS fits right in there, sometimes lasting for six months after the initial injury.
Common Symptoms And Warning Signs
Common symptoms and warning signs include:
- Pain that is portrayed as aching, burning, cold, deep, and/or heightened skin sensitivity
- An instigating injury or traumatic event, like a fracture, sprain, or minor surgery that shouldn’t cause as serious pain as being suffered or where the pain doesn’t go away with healing
- Moderate-to-severe pain related to allodynia or discomfort from something that shouldn’t cause pain, like the touch of a shower or clothing on the body
- Moderate-to-severe continuing pain linked to hyperalgesia or increased sensitivity to painful stimulus
- Irregular swelling in the disturbed area
- Abnormal nail or hair growth
- Strange skin color changes
- Unusual skin temperature, such as when one side of the body is colder or warmer than the other by greater than 3 degrees Fahrenheit
- Heavy sweating in the affected area
- Reduced range of motion, frailty, or other motor ailments such as dystonia or paralysis
- The symptoms and signs may come and go
The symptoms related to CRPS can affect anyone but are more widespread in women, “with a recent increase in the number of children and adolescents who are diagnosed.”
Many of the worst symptoms can be managed with time, persistence, proper care, and a referral for ketamine therapy.
Diagnosis normally involves:
- A detailed physical examination from a general practitioner, neurologist, orthopedist, or plastic surgeon
- Various nerve conduction studies
- Imaging studies, like magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, and X-Rays
- Triple-phase bone scans
No single test or diagnostic procedure can determine the cause of CRPS, and multiple examinations may be required.
How To Manage CRPS In Cold Weather
What works for one person managing CRPS during colder months may not work for everyone, but doctors generally offer tips like these:
- “Ease the shock of cold weather on your body by dressing in layers to stay warm,” according to UChicago Medicine.
- Use exercise to build up muscle and bone strength. This minimizes pressure on your joints, making them less prone to injury.
- Based on gender, age, height, and other factors, keep a healthy weight to reduce stress on your joints, particularly your knees.
- Avoid needless strain on your joints while undergoing daily responsibilities.
- Place heating pads on painful areas as heat helps loosen your muscles.
- Get up, take a walk, and be active outdoors and indoors. If you’re going outside in cold weather, make sure to dress appropriately in layered clothing. Stretch before going outside to relax stiff joints. Staying active during the winter keeps your joints and muscles healthy.
- Get enough sleep, eat healthily, and retain a positive outlook.
- Try a craft or hobby.
- Work on a crossword puzzle or brain-intensive game.
Ketamine And CRPS
There’s no such thing as a “magic bullet” to treat chronic pain. Managing pain symptoms is a case of commitment, trial, and error. What worked yesterday may not do much today, but an important key is staying positive and understanding other options. For the last several years, doctors have begun referring CRPS patients to ketamine therapy to treat the symptoms and relieve discomfort. The medicine was once solely used for human and veterinary anesthesia.
Don’t let chronic regional pain syndrome get you down or ruin your quality of life. Pain symptoms, both physical and psychological, can be managed, often with therapy, medicine, or medical devices. The option of a referral for ketamine therapy also is worth exploring. The medication may help manage pain symptoms.