Does your chronic pain make you feel helpless? With a wide range of varying symptoms and periods of pain and remission, chronic pain can feel like a lose-lose situation.
If your doctor can’t put their finger on what’s causing your pain and other treatments haven’t helped, you may have complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).
Most people haven’t heard of complex regional pain syndrome unless they’ve been diagnosed with it. This uncommon form of chronic pain usually affects your arm or your leg, but shows up differently in everyone.
Jason Chiu, MD and his expert team at The Painless Center, help patients dealing with CRPS in Carlstadt and Tenafly, New Jersey. Since CRPS is misunderstood and often confused with other health problems, we’ve compiled a list of myths and facts, so you can help discover more about CPRS.
What it’s like
CRPS is a rare disease and occurs in approximately 200,000 Americans every year. For most people, it describes acute or chronic pain that remains after an injury has healed. Many times it occurs in the arms or legs as a result of a sprain, broken bone, stroke, or more.
The most distinguishable symptom of CRPS is pain that exceeds the degree of its cause. For example, someone lightly touches your arm and you experience throbbing, debilitating pain.
Some other typical symptoms of CRPS include:
- Burning or throbbing pain
- Swelling of the painful area
- Changes in your skin’s temperature
- Decreased mobility in the affected area
- Changes in nail and hair growth
- Sensitivity to sensation or cold temperatures
Many causes of CRPS aren’t known, but are often attributed to injury or irregularity in your peripheral and/or central nervous system. Now that you know the basics, let’s dive into some of the most common facts and myths.
Fact #1: CRPS can spread to other body parts
We’ve already mentioned that CRPS usually roots in one part of your body. However, there are many cases of it spreading to other parts, even if they haven't experienced new trauma.
In a clinical study, 53% of patients with CRPS had it spread contralaterally — meaning if the pain occurred in their right limb, it spread to their left limb. Roughly, 32% of spreading cases occurred ipsilaterally, meaning on the same side of the body.
Myth #1: CPRS is a mental health condition
As a physical health concern, CPRS is not considered a mental health condition. However, the severity of CPRS shouldn’t be overlooked, and it should be mentioned that many chronic health conditions do develop into mental health issues. In fact, two studies concluded that half of the people dealing with chronic pain develop depression and/or anxiety.
Fact #2: CRPS can be caused by minor injuries
Although CRPS can be caused by major injuries like a car crash, it can also be caused by minor injuries. Minor injuries that cause CRPS include carpal tunnel, broken bones, cuts, and strains.
Myth #2: CRPS isn’t treatable
Many patients with mild or early cases of CRPS make a full recovery on their own. However, if the disease has progressed, treatment is most effective when it’s started early.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for CRPS. However, many patients living with this rare disease have found life-changing relief through one or more treatments.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation are the most effective treatments for CRPS. This form of treatment aims to keep the affected area moving to improve its circulation and blood flow. Rehabilitation helps reverse brain and spinal cord changes that often occur when painful body parts aren’t used.
If physical therapy doesn’t provide you with enough pain relief, Dr. Chiu may suggest medication.
Some of the medications known to improve CRPS include:
- Botulinum injections
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Topical local anesthetic ointments
Since CRPS looks different in everyone, no medication or combination of medication is proven to be effective for every case.
Dr. Chiu may suggest a nerve block — an anesthetic that's injected directly into a nerve to help “turn off” its pain receptors. A nerve block can provide a damaged nerve time to heal, give you temporary pain relief, and pinpoint a specific area of pain. The results of a nerve block are usually immediate and can last for several weeks.
CRPS is a misunderstood disease, and you don’t have to live with the pain of it alone. Dr. Chiu and his orthopedic team are here to help you find treatment so you can reclaim your life again.
Contact us to schedule your appointment, so you can find a CRPS treatment that works for you.