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Is CRPS a Neurological Disorder?

Is CRPS a Neurological Disorder?

Most people have never heard of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Still, for those affected by this chronic and debilitating condition, the pain is a constant and often overwhelming reality that interferes with every aspect of their life.

What Exactly is CRPS?

Complex regional pain syndrome, previously known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), is a chronic pain condition that most often affects one of the extremities (arms, legs, hands, or feet). It typically develops after an injury or trauma to the affected limb.

Even though the initial injury may have healed, the pain associated with CRPS can persist for months or even years. The exact cause of CRPS is unknown, but it’s thought to be due to damage or dysfunction of the nervous system, leading to changes in how the brain processes pain signals. While further research is needed to better understand CRPS, this evidence indicates that CRPs is primarily a neurological disorder.

What Are The Symptoms of CRPS?

The most common symptom of CRPS is intense and unrelenting pain that is out of proportion to the initial injury. The pain is often described as burning, throbbing, or stabbing. The affected area may also be sensitive to touch or temperature changes. In some cases, the pain can be so severe that it interferes with a person’s ability to perform daily activities.

Other symptoms of CRPS include:

  • Swelling and inflammation 
  • Increased sweating 
  • Skin changes, such as redness or changes in color 
  • Changes in nail and hair growth 
  • Muscle weakness 
  • Joint stiffness 
  • Abnormal sensation in the affected area 
  • Decreased range of motion 
  • Fatigue


There is no single test that can diagnose CRPS. Instead, diagnosis is based on a review of symptoms and a physical examination. Your doctor may also order tests, such as X-rays, MRI scans, and nerve conduction studies, to rule out other conditions that could cause similar symptoms.

Treating CRPS

There is no cure for CRPS. However, there are treatments that can help ease symptoms and improve function. Common treatment options include:

Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, corticosteroids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants commonly treat moderate to severe pain associated with CRPS. In some cases, nerve block injections may be necessary to help control pain. Ketamine infusion therapy has also shown great promise in treating chronic pain.

Physical Therapy: Exercises that stretch and strengthen muscles can help increase range of motion and relieve pain. Physical therapy may also involve heat/cold therapies and electrical stimulation. 

Psychological Counseling: It is well established that psychological stress can make chronic pain worse. Living with chronic pain can also take a toll on your mental health. Therefore, psychological counseling can be an important part of treatment, helping you to cope with the physical and emotional impact of CRPS.

Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying problem that may be contributing to your pain. For example, surgery may be required to release tightened muscles or repair damaged nerves. However, it is generally considered a last resort when other treatments have failed.

The Bottom Line

CRPS can be a debilitating condition that significantly impairs quality of life. However, treatments are available that can help lessen pain and improve function. If you think you may have CRPS, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options.

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