Complex Regional
Pain Syndrome

Table of Contents

What is Complex regional pain syndrome?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a type of chronic pain syndrome.

CRPS causes severe burning pain and can possibly lead to the deterioration of an affected arm or leg.

What causes Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

The cause of CRPS is unknown, but it can develop following an injury, stroke, or heart attack.  Prompt treatment is associated with the best outcomes. If untreated, CPRS can cause irreversible extremity deterioration.

What are the symptoms of Complex regional pain syndrome?

The symptoms vary from person to person.  Severe burning pain, joint stiffness, and swelling are hallmark symptoms of CRPS.  It can affect an arm or leg. Three stages characterize CRPS. Not all people progress through all three of the stages.  Some people may stay in the first stage indefinitely, and others may skip a stage.

stage 1

Stage I occurs at the onset of CRPS and can last about three months.  You may feel burning pain, stiffness, increased sweating, and warmth in your affected limb.  Your nails and hair may grow faster than usual. Your skin may become dry, thin, and change color.

stage 2

Stage II CRPS lasts from three to twelve months.  You may experience an increase in swelling.  Your skin may become cooler and more sensitive to touch.  Your pain may become more widespread. Your joints and muscles may become stiffer.

stage 3

Stage III occurs from one year on.  Changes in Stage III may be irreversible and permanent.  The pain may spread to your entire limb. Your joints may be very stiff and very difficult to move.  You may experience muscle wasting and contractures.

How is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome diagnosed?

Early diagnosis of CRPS is important for the best treatment results.  Your doctor can diagnose CRPS by reviewing your medical history and conducting a physical examination.  You should tell your doctor about your symptoms and their progression. Your doctor will examine your limb for skin changes, swelling, changes in blood flow, and loss of mobility.  Your doctor may order tests such as X-rays, bone scans, or nerve studies. There is no test, however, that can diagnose specifically CRPS.

What are the treatment options for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

To ensure the best outcome, it is important to start treatment as soon as possible.  Treatment for CRPS includes medications, rehabilitation therapy, injections, and surgery.  There is no true cure for CRPS, but treatments in the early stages can prevent the disease from progressing and cause them to regress. Treatment goals during the advanced stages are aimed at symptom relief and improving function.


Your doctor can prescribe medications to help ease your symptoms.  A combination of medications may be used including pain relievers, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and steroids.  Injected pain-relieving medications, spinal cord stimulation, and implanted medication delivery pumps may provide pain relief for longer periods of time.  Hand therapy can help ease your symptoms and regain function in your limb.


Surgery is rarely indicated for CRPS.  For those cases in which the syndrome is caused by nerve injury or compression, surgery to resolve the problem can help relieve symptoms

What is the recovery like for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

CRPS that is treated in the early stages has the best outlook.  If treated early, CRPS can go into an inactive state and function is optimized.  If CRPS is not diagnosed and treated promptly, irreversible changes can occur in the involved extremity.

If you suffer from any of the symptoms of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, please contact Arizona Center for Hand to Shoulder Surgery for a consultation. Our caring staff will be honored to take care of you.

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