What Is CRPS?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition that most often affects one limb (arm, leg, hand, or foot) after an injury or trauma to that limb. Even though the injury itself may have healed, people with CRPS continue to experience pain, swelling, and other symptoms.

The pain often manifests as an intense burning sensation. Other symptoms of CRPS include:

  • Swelling
  • Numbness, tingling, or “pins and needles” sensations
  • Joint and muscle stiffness
  • Changes in skin texture and color
  • Abnormalities in nail and hair growth.
  • Decreased range motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Increased sensitivity to touch, pressure, or temperature
  • Reduced pain threshold
  • Abnormal sweating 

CRPS can also lead to depression and other psychological problems, as well as affect a person’s ability to work or perform daily activities.

Types of CRPS

There are two types of CRPS: type I and type II. Type I CRPS, also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome (RSDS), is the more common of the two. It is more likely to be triggered by a relatively minor injury or trauma that does not normally result in chronic pain, such as a sprain, strain, fracture, or even surgery. In this type of CPRS, there is no obvious nerve damage. On the other hand, type II CRPS (also known as causalgia) may occur after an illness or injury that causes nerve damage.

Causes of CRPS

The exact causes of CRPS are not yet fully understood, but it is thought to be the result of damage to nerve fibers in the affected limb. This damage can occur after an injury, forceful trauma, or surgery – causing the nervous system to malfunction.

As a result, the body’s pain control system becomes overexcited and sends pain signals to the brain that are amplified. The body responds by producing inflammation, which causes further nerve irritation, creating a vicious cycle of pain and other symptoms.

Treating CRPS

CRPS often requires a multifaceted approach to treatment that may include medication, psychological counseling, physical therapy, and interventional treatments.


There are a number of different medications that can be used to help manage the pain associated with CRPS. These include over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, as well as prescription medications such as NSAIDs, opioids, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. Your doctor will work with you to determine which medication or combination of medications is best for you based on your unique situation.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is another common treatment for CRPS. Physical therapy can help to increase mobility, strengthen muscles, and improve function. A physical therapist can also teach you stretching and exercises that can help to increase pain tolerance.

Psychological Therapy

Living with chronic pain can take a toll on your emotional and psychological well-being. As such, psychological therapy can be an important part of treatment. A therapist can help you learn to cope with the emotional aspects of chronic pain and develop healthy coping strategies.

Interventional Treatments

There are a number of interventional treatments that can be used to treat CRPS. These include nerve blocks, surgery, and electrical stimulation. Ketamine infusion therapy has also shown great promise in providing long-term remission from chronic pain.

The Bottom Line

CRPS is a complex and potentially debilitating condition that requires a multifaceted approach to treatment. While there is no cure for CRPS, there are a number of effective treatments available that can help improve symptoms and quality of life. If you think you may have CRPS, talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you.