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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

(CRPS; Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy [RSD]; Causalgia; Sympathetically Maintained Pain)


Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) refers to a chronic condition that affects the nerves and blood vessels of one or more limbs.
There are two types of CRPS:
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
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The cause of CRPS is not known. The condition likely results from several factors. It may involve overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system. This directs automatic body functions that a person cannot control. Inflammation may also play a role in the disorder.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of CRPS include:


Symptoms usually appear after an injury. The most important symptom of CPRS is prolonged pain that may be constant or severe. There are different types and ranges of pain. Types of pain include burning, throbbing, aching, squeezing, or shooting.
Symptoms of CRPS change over time and may include:


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To diagnose CRPS, the doctor uses four criteria:
Tests may be ordered to rule out other conditions. Your doctor may refer you to a pain specialist for further evaluation and management. Tests may include the following:


Treatment aims to relieve pain and improve function. Early therapy may lead to better outcomes. In some cases, the condition goes away on its own; this is more common in children. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:

Physical Therapy

Active and passive exercises help maintain function.
With a technique called mirror box therapy, you place your affected hand or foot in a box, which has a mirror on one side. While moving your limb inside of the box, you move your unaffected limb in front of the mirror. To your brain, it appears that you are moving your painful limb easily and without discomfort. Mirror box therapy may help to reduce pain and improve motor function in people who have CRPS due to stroke.


Long-term pain often leads to depression or anxiety . Counseling is often required to help patients deal with chronic pain and loss of function.


Your doctor may recommend the following medications:
  • Pain relievers
  • Antidepressants
  • Antiseizure medications
  • Bisphosphonates
  • Corticosteroids
  • Topical pain relievers that are applied to the skin
  • Nerve block injections


A surgical procedure called sympathectomy can permanently destroy sympathetic nerves. In some cases however, surgery may worsen symptoms.

Other Treatments


Quick mobilization after surgery or injury can help minimize the risk of CRPS in the affected limb. Other steps that might be helpful include:


International Research Foundation for RSD/CRPS

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association


Health Canada

Promoting Awareness of RSD and CRPS in Canada


Complex regional pain syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated June 24, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.

Harden RN, Bruehl SP. Diagnosis of complex regional pain syndrome: signs, symptoms, and new empirically derived diagnostic criteria. Clinical Journal of Pain . 2006;22:415-419.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: . Updated June 26, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.

8/10/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Zollinger PE, Tuinebreijer WE, Breederveld RS, Kreis RW. Can vitamin C prevent complex regional pain syndrome in patients with wrist fractures? A randomized, controlled, multicenter dose-response study. J Bone Joint Surg Am . 2007;89:1424-1431.

11/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Cacchio A, DeBlasis, E, Necozione S, di Orio F, Santilla V. Mirror therapy for chronic complex regional pain syndrome type 1 and stroke. N Engl J Med . 2009;361(6):634-636.

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