painAs its name suggests, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a complicated and painful condition. Approximately 80,000 Americans are diagnosed with CRPS each year, usually in the arm, hand, leg or foot. Physicians, mental health professionals and physical therapists are learning more about how to help patients successfully manage CRPS. A multidisciplinary team approach to treatment will help you feel as well as possible.

Intersecting problems involving the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system and the immune system are the root of CRPS. Usually one area of the body is affected with pain, along with a burning sensation, hypersensitivity to touch, underlying bone and joint changes, excessive sweating and tissue swelling.

Cases of CRPS come in two types: Type 1 CRPS arises seemingly out of nowhere; the more common type 2 cases begin with a minor injury to a nerve, perhaps a normally unremarkable scrape or sprain. No one knows why either type develops.

We do know that early, intense treatment is more successful at relieving CRPS pain than is treatment begun later. Some therapies that help patients with CRPS include

  • A program of both passive and active motions is important to prevent the disfiguring permanent joint positions caused by tightened muscles (contractures) that can come with undertreated CRPS.
  • Graded motor imagery. This rehabilitation strategy for many disorders that involve differences in movements from one side of the body to the other involves psychological as well as physiological
  • Because CRPS pain can be triggered easily, learning how to stay calm and controlled can help lessen discomfort when particular triggers (for example, stress or certain sounds) are present.

CRPS patients need to avoid heat, ice, ultrasound or electrostimulation treatments. While such modalities work for many conditions, CRPS isn’t one of them.

Please visit your physician promptly if you suspect you may have CRPS. Then come see us. Early care, including a customized physical therapy regimen, is crucial to trying to keep the effects of CRPS in check.

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