What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition most often affecting one of the limbs (arms, legs, hands, or feet), usually after an injury or trauma to that limb.  CRPS is believed to be caused by damage to, or malfunction of, the peripheral and central nervous systems.  The central nervous system is composed of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system involves nerve signaling from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.  CRPS is characterized by prolonged or excessive pain and mild or dramatic changes in skin color, temperature, and/or swelling in the affected area.

There are two similar forms, called CRPS-I and CRPS-II, with the same symptoms and treatments. CRPS-II (previously called causalgia) is the term used for patients with confirmed nerve injuries. Individuals without confirmed nerve injury are classified as having CRPS-I (previously called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome).  Some research has identified evidence of nerve injury in CRPS-I, so the validity of the two different forms is being investigated.

CRPS symptoms vary in severity and duration. Studies of the incidence and prevalence of the disease show that most cases are mild and individuals recover gradually with time. In more severe cases, individuals may not recover and may have long-term disability.

"Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Fact Sheet," NINDS. Publication date June 2013.

NIH Publication No. 13-4173