Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a poorly understood condition in which a person experiences persistent severe and debilitating pain. Although most cases of CRPS are triggered by an injury, the resulting pain is much more severe and long-lasting than normal.
The pain is usually confined to one limb, but it can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. The skin of the affected body part can become so sensitive that just a slight touch, bump or even a change in temperature can provoke intense pain.
Affected areas can also become swollen, stiff or undergo fluctuating changes in colour or temperature. Many cases of CRPS gradually improve to some degree over time, or get completely better. However, some cases of CRPS never go away, and the affected person will experience pain for many years.
The cause of CRPS is unknown, but it’s generally thought to be the result of the body reacting abnormally to an injury. It used to be thought that CRPS was a psychosomatic condition (the symptoms were “all in the mind”), but research has since disproved this.
It’s difficult to estimate exactly how common CRPS is, as many cases may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. CRPS can begin at any age, including in children, although the average age for symptoms to start is around 50. Women make up around 3 out of every 4 cases.
Treatment for CRPS involves 4 main aspects:
Due to the complex nature of CRPS, a number of different professionals will usually be involved in your care.