What is CRPS

About Complex Regional Pain Syndrome


Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is very rare and difficult to diagnose usually taking 2-3 months even with the best team of doctors. It is a collection of symptoms that most often affect children in their early teenage years after what is usually a very minor injury although it can also emerge in adults.  It used to be called RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy).  CRPS symptoms vary and are the result of a dysfunction of the nervous system.  Most often, CRPS symptoms affect a limb(s) but symptoms can be felt in the entire body. It is important to understand that the symptoms can “jump” from limb to limb and back again and can affect multiple limbs simultaneously. Symptoms can be so severe that they make the limb(s) temporarily unusable.


Symptoms typically include but are not limited to the following:


  • Severe pain in the affected limb(s) which is usually much worse than what would be expected with the initial injury
  • Temperature changes to the affected limb(s) which could feel either hot or cold to the touch due to vasoconstriction or vasodilation
  • Muscle tightening within the affected limb(s)
  • Changes to skin appearance of the affected limb(s) including color and “rash”
  • Numbness and/or tingling sensation in the affected limb(s)
  • Extreme skin sensitivity to touch causing tremendous pain when anything comes in contact with the skin


Early detection and treatment is critical to recovery.  CRPS can go away over time with proper treatment.  Seeing a neurologist is a great place to start.  Once a CRPS diagnosis has been made, your doctor can make recommendations on a medical team to aid in your treatment.  Your treatment team will most likely include physical and occupational therapists and a cognitive behavioral therapist in addition to your neurologist.  It is important to understand that CRPS can go away for a period of time and then reemerge 6-12 months later if your triggers (like stress) are not kept in check.  CRPS can cause depression and changes to sleep patterns so it is important that you share this information with your doctors as well.