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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Condition: Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic and disabling pain disorder that usually follows an injury to the arms or legs, such as a sprain, crush injury, broken bone or surgery.

Background: CRPS is rare, with only 26 cases in every 100,000 people who have an injury. The cause is not clear, but seems to involve damage to certain nerves.

Risk Factors: Women are more likely than men to have CRPS. Most patients are in their 50s and 60s. Rarely, CRPS follows a stroke or heart attack.

History and Symptoms: Besides pain and increased sensitivity, patients may have changes in skin color and temperature, swelling, and weakness. The pain may spread and get worse over time. It can also lead to inactivity that can cause other problems such as muscle stiffness or wasting.

Physical Exam: The doctor will look for signs of CRPS by testing your reactions to a pin prick or soft touch with a cotton swab. Other signs include changes in skin color and temperature, hair growth, and changes in the color and texture of the nails. The doctor will also want to see how well you can move your arms and legs.   

Diagnostic Process: There are no blood or imaging tests for CRPS, but these and other tests may be done to rule out other conditions. Nerve blocks, where drugs are injected near certain nerves, may be used to show where the pain is coming from.

Rehab Management: Treating pain and improving function are the main goals of therapy. This may involve drugs as well as physical, occupational, recreational, vocational, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Nerve blocks can sometimes help  

Other Resources for Patients and Families: CRPS can be very frustrating for patients, so family support is very important. Lifestyle changes may also be needed to help the patient take care of himself.  

For Patients and Families:

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