November is considered International Nerve Pain Awareness Month, or in simpler terms, NERVEmber. It is a time to bring awareness to complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and the more than 150 other conditions with nerve pain as a symptom. Several landmarks across the country were lit up on November 5th to Color the World Orange, and members of the pain community will be wearing orange all month long to show support for those suffering from this debilitating condition.
What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) may also be known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or RSD. A chronic and painful condition, CRPS affects more than 75,000 Americans, but has no known or determinable cause. It is a chronic pain condition that affects one limb (arm, leg, hand, or foot), usually after a trauma or injury.
CRPS causes an intense burning or “pins and needles” sensation that radiates to a larger area, and will cause a severely painful reaction that is not expected with the type of injury sustained. For example, a small cut on the tip of the finger would be considerably minor to someone in good health, but for an individual with CRPS, that small cut would radiate a burning pain that traveled up the arm and could be excruciating.
While there is no known cause for CRPS, it is believed that an injury or trauma that did not heal properly may be a contributor, or nerve damage that spread instead of healing may be a cause. However, known cause or not, those with CRPS suffer many difficult days with their painful condition.
Other common symptoms of CRPS include:
- continuous pain in the affected region (may be burning or throbbing in nature)
- decreased range of motion in the affected region or body part
- extreme sensitivity to non-painful stimuli (clothing against the skin, water pressure from the shower, etc.)
- extreme sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
- swelling of the affected region or body part
- developed muscle weakness over time
Treating Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Left untreated, CRPS can eventually spread to the other side or another body part. Regardless of cause or severity, treatment of CRPS has far better results if it is begun early in the onset of the condition. Treatment options for CRPS vary by patient, and may include rehabilitation and physical therapy to keep the limb moving, improving blood flow to the affected area and lessening the circulatory symptoms. Medications such as antidepressants, corticosteroids, and anticonvulsants have been beneficial in treating CRPS. Nerve blocks to reduce pain signals have also shown benefits in specific cases, as has spinal cord stimulation and other types of neural stimulation.
If you suspect that you have complex regional pain syndrome symptoms, contact your physician or a pain specialist near you. Early treatment is the best course of action against CRPS.
Alpana Saini, DO is a board certified and fellowship trained pain management physician at The Pain Center in Arizona. As a specialist in pain management, Dr. Saini enjoys getting people back to living a full, functional life.
To learn more about NERVEmber and ways you can show support of the CRPS community, visit The International Pain Foundation or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association (RSDSA).