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Regional Pain Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

Living a full and fulfilling life is something we all aspire to. But conditions like RPS can hinder our ability to enjoy life. It’s a chronic ache condition that causes intense and persistent aches in a specific part of the body.

The impact of regional pain syndrome can be significant. It affects various aspects of daily life. The constant ache makes it difficult to do even simple tasks. And it can limit our ability to be independent and mobile. It can also take a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. It leads to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and sadness.

Moreover, RPS can strain relationships and limit our social interactions. It makes us feel isolated and disconnected. In this article, we will tell you about this condition. We’ll provide you with signs, classifications, causes, and treatment information.

What Is Regional Pain Syndrome?

It’s a chronic and often debilitating condition. Persistent and severe aches characterize it. It typically affects a specific body area, such as an arm, leg, hand, or foot. It can occur after an injury or trauma. But the resulting ache is the disproportionate to the initial injury.

The exact cause is not fully understood. Doctors believe they involve a central or peripheral nervous system dysfunction. The nervous system becomes hypersensitive. And it amplifies ache signals, leading to prolonged ache and other signs.

Signs can vary. These symptoms of CRPS spreading across the body can significantly impact an individual’s:

Daily activities, quality of life, and emotional well-being.

Diagnosing can be challenging, as there are no specific tests to confirm its presence. Medical professionals rely on a combination of:

  • Clinical evaluation.
  • Patient history.
  • Exclusion of other possible causes.

Classification of Regional Pain Syndrome

In the realm of this condition, classification plays a crucial role in:

  • Understanding the diverse manifestations.
  • Guiding treatment approaches.

This block delves into the classification of illness. It aims to provide insight into the various subtypes and their distinctive features. By exploring the classification systems employed in the field, we can better understand the complexities and nuances associated with this condition.

complex pain syndrome

Classification systems for complex pain syndrome are to categorize and differentiate the different:

  • Presentations.
  • Characteristics.

These systems aid clinicians in:

  • Making accurate diagnoses.
  • Determining prognosis.
  • Tailoring treatment plans for individuals.

The classifications often take into account factors such as:

  • The affected body area.
  • Clinical symptoms of CRPS spreading across the body.
  • Disease progression.
  • Underlying mechanisms.

Delving into the classification, we’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of the different subtypes. This can help healthcare professionals enhance their ability to:

  • Diagnose.
  • Manage.
  • Study the condition more effectively.

Type 1

Type 1 complex pain syndrome is one of the subtypes of RPS. Here are some key points about Type 1.

Type 1 occurs without any identifiable nerve injury or lesion. It often develops following a minor injury or trauma. But the resulting ache is disproportionate and more severe than expected:

  • Triggering factors. Various factors can trigger type 1. They’re sprains, fractures, surgeries, or even minor tissue injuries like burns or cuts. The ache may not directly correlate with the severity of the initial injury.
  • Signs. They’re continuous burning ache, increased sensitivity to touch or cold. They’re skin color, temperature changes, swelling, limited motion, and muscle weakness.
  • Progression. Type 1 complex pain syndrome may progress through different stages. It includes an acute phase. It’s characterized by intense ache and swelling. Also, it includes skin changes, followed by a subacute phase with increased stiffness. And also, finally and a chronic phase with long-lasting signs.

Type 2

Type 2 is another subtype of RPS. Here are some key points about Type 2.

Type 2 results from an identifiable nerve injury or lesion. It’s often associated with more severe signs compared to Type 1:

  • Nerve injury. Type 2 typically follows nerve trauma or damage. It can be due to accidents, surgery, or other medical interventions. The ache experienced is often localized to the distribution of the affected nerve.
  • Signs. Type 2 shares similar signs with Type 1 complex pain syndrome. But Type 2 may exhibit more pronounced neurological signs. They’re associated with the specific nerve involved.
  • Diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis involves a thorough evaluation of the nerve injury and corresponding signs. Treatment approaches may include medications, nerve blocks, physical therapy, etc.

Causes of Regional Pain Syndrome

The causes are not fully understood. The condition often develops following an injury or trauma. But the resulting ache is disproportionate to the initial injury. The exact mechanisms underlying RPS are complex and multifaceted. But several factors have been proposed as potential causes or contributors. Here is a list of possible causes:

  • Nerve injury. The illness can occur due to nerve damage caused by trauma, surgery, or medical procedures.
  • Inflammation. Inflammatory processes within the affected area may contribute to the development.
  • Abnormal immune response. An exaggerated or dysregulated immune response may trigger or sustain signs.
  • Central sensitization. Changes in the central nervous system can lead to sensitivity and ache.
  • Genetic predisposition. Certain individuals may have a genetic susceptibility to developing this condition.
  • Vascular abnormalities. Disruption of blood flow or abnormalities in blood vessels may play a role in the condition.
  • Psychological factors. Emotional stress, anxiety, and depression can impact ache perception. And it contributes to signs.
  • Changes in the autonomic nervous system. Dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system may be also involved in development.
  • Neuroplasticity. Alterations in the structure and function of the NS can contribute to ache.
  • Hormonal factors. Hormonal imbalances or fluctuations may influence ache sensitivity and contribute to signs.

Link Between Regional Pain Syndrome and Other Medical Conditions

The link between RPS and other medical conditions is a topic of interest in ache management. RPS can develop independently. But there’s evidence that it’s associated with certain underlying medical conditions.

Some medical conditions that potentially associated with RPS include:

  • Peripheral neuropathy. Nerve damage or dysfunction in peripheral nerves contributes to the development of aches.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation and immune system dysregulation may impact the development or progression of aches.
  • Fibromyalgia. RPS and fibromyalgia share some similarities regarding chronic aches and heightened ache sensitivity. And individuals with one condition may be at increased risk for developing the other.
  • Depression and anxiety disorders. Depression and anxiety have been observed to co-occur with RPS. It potentially influences sign severity and treatment outcomes.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events and PTSD may increase the risk of developing complex pain syndrome.
  • Autoimmune diseases. Doctors associate Lupus or multiple sclerosis with RPS in some cases.

Symptoms of Regional Pain Syndrome

The symptoms of CRPS spreading can vary in severity and presentation from person to person. The following list outlines some common signs:

  • Persistent ache. Intense, continuous ache is a hallmark. It’s often described as burning, throbbing, or shooting.
  • Increased sensitivity. Hypersensitivity to touch, temperature, or even gentle pressure on the affected area.
  • Swelling and edema. Noticeable swelling and fluid accumulation in the affected limb or area.
  • Changes in skin color and temperature. The skin may appear blotchy, discolored, or mottled. And it can be warmer or cooler than the surrounding areas.
  • Limited range of motion. Stiffness, difficulty moving the affected limb or joint, or a sense of weakness.
  • Muscle spasms and tremors. Involuntary muscle contractions and shaking in the affected area.
  • Skin texture changes. The skin may become thin, shiny, or have a glossy appearance.
  • Nail and hair abnormalities. Brittle nails, changes in nail growth, and thinning or excessive hair in affected area.
  • Joint stiffness. Reduced flexibility and mobility in the joints near the affected area.
  • Emotional and psychological changes. Anxiety, depression, and emotional distress are common symptoms of CRPS spreading. It’s due to chronic ache and its impact on daily life.

symptoms of CRPS spreading

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

It’s a chronic ache condition. It typically affects a specific body area, such as an arm, leg, hand, or foot. It’s characterized by severe and disproportionate aches, often following an injury or trauma. Here is a list of key points:

1. Types: CRPS is usually divided into two types: 

  • a. CRPS-I: Occurs without identifiable nerve injury. 
  • b. CRPS-II: Results from a known nerve injury.

2. Signs: Common symptoms of CRPS spreading include:

  • Continuous or intermittent burning ache.
  • Increased sensitivity to touch or cold.
  • Changes in skin color and temperature.
  • Swelling and edema.
  • Limited range of motion.
  • Muscle weakness and spasms.
  • Skin texture and nail changes.

3. Potential causes. The exact cause of CRPS is not fully understood. But factors are: nerve damage, inflammation, abnormal immune response, central sensitization.

4. Diagnosis. It’s an evaluation of medical history, clinical examination, and exclusion of other causes.

5. CRPS Treatments. Management aims to relieve ache, restore function, and improve quality of life. It includes medication, physical therapy, nerve blocks, sympathetic nerve stimulation, and psychological interventions.

Comparison Between Regional Pain Syndrome and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

RPS and complex pain syndrome are terms often used interchangeably to describe the same condition. But it is worth noting some differences and comparisons between the two:

  • Terminology. RPS is a broader term encompassing various types of localized aches. CRPS refers to the condition with severe and chronic ache following an injury or trauma.
  • Diagnosis and treatment. The diagnostic process and treatment approaches for both conditions are generally similar. They evaluate signs, exclude other possible causes, and implement management strategies.
  • Severity and signs. CRPS is typically associated with more severe and debilitating signs. It’s changes in skin color and temperature, swelling, and limited range of motion. Regional pain syndrome may encompass a wider range of localized ache conditions. It’s with varying degrees of severity and sign presentation.
  • Clinical use. CRPS is a more commonly recognized term within the medical community. At the same time, RPS may be also used more broadly to describe localized aches.

Diagnosis of CRPS

It involves evaluation of signs, medical history, and exclusion of other possible causes. Here is a list of key aspects involved in the diagnosis:

  • Clinical examination. A thorough physical examination is conducted. It’s to assess the affected area. It’s ache, skin temperature and color changes, swelling, and limited motion.
  • Medical history. The healthcare provider will review the patient’s medical history. It includes any injuries, trauma, or surgeries.
  • Diagnostic criteria. CRPS diagnosis, such as the Budapest Criteria, are usually used. These criteria consider the presence of specific signs and signs associated with CRPS.
  • Imaging studies. X-rays, MRI, or other imaging modalities may be also performed. It’s to rule out other potential causes and assess for signs of bone or soft tissue abnormalities.
  • Nerve conduction studies. These tests may be conducted to check nerve function. And this excludes other nerve-related conditions.
  • Exclusion of other conditions. Other conditions with similar signs need to be also ruled out. They can be peripheral neuropathy, arthritis, or vascular disorders.
  • Consultation with specialists. Referral ache management specialists or neurologists may be necessary. It’s for further evaluation and confirmation of the diagnosis.

Treatments for CRPS

The treatment aims to reduce ache, improve function, and enhance well-being. Here is a list of treatment options commonly used:

  • Medications. Various medications may be prescribed. It’s to manage signs. It’s analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and topical creams or patches.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in management. It focuses on exercises to improve range of motion, strength, and coordination. Techniques like desensitization exercises and mirror therapy may also be help.
  • Sympathetic nerve blocks. These injections deliver local anesthetics or other medications. It’s to block sympathetic nerves associated with CRPS. It provides temporary ache relief and improves blood flow.
  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS). This CRPS treatment involves implanting a device. It delivers electrical impulses to the spinal cord. It helps to modulate ache signals and reduce CRPS signs.
  • Graded motor imagery (GMI). GMI is a rehabilitation technique. It uses visual imagery and motor exercises. It’s to retrain the brain and improve movement and function in affected limbs.
  • Psychological interventions. Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can help. They help to cope with the emotional and psychological impact.
  • Ache management techniques. Other CRPS treatments may include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), acupuncture, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques.
  • Medication infusions. Intravenous administration of medications may help in certain cases. It’s to help modulate aches and reduce inflammation. They’re bisphosphonates or ketamine.

CRPS treatments

Conclusion

In conclusion, regional pain syndrome is a challenging condition. It’s characterized by severe and chronic ache. It typically affects a specific area of the body.

The exact causes are not fully understood. But nerve injury, inflammation, and abnormal ache processing play a role. The signs can be diverse. It includes ache, sensitivity, swelling, and limited mobility.

Early diagnosis and a multidisciplinary approach to treatment are essential. Treatment options may include medication, physical therapy, nerve blocks, and psychological interventions.

FAQ 

  • What are the early signs of regional pain syndrome?

              They include:
– Persistent and disproportionate pain.
– Changes in skin temperature and color.
– Swelling.
– Limited range of motion in the affected region.

  • Can regional pain syndrome spread to other parts of the body?

          Yes, Regional Pain Syndrome (RPS) can spread to other parts of the body. It’s known as “spreading” or “secondary” RPS and can occur in some individuals. The spread of RPS may involve adjacent regions or even affect the entire limb.

  • Can I cure regional pain syndrome?

          Regional Pain Syndrome cannot be usually cured completely. But with appropriate management, you can minimize symptoms. And one can improve function and quality of life. Early intervention and a multidisciplinary approach to treatment are crucial for optimal outcomes.

  • How is regional pain syndrome diagnosed?

          The diagnosis involves a comprehensive evaluation. It includes medical history, clinical examination, and exclusion of other causes of symptoms. Diagnostic criteria, such as the Budapest Criteria, may be as guidelines. Imaging studies and nerve conduction tests may also help. It’s recommended to consult with healthcare professionals experienced in RPS diagnosis and treatment.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been prepared.read more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well together.read more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your business.read more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any cookies.read more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going there.read more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my treatment.read more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to finish.read more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 stars.read more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his staff.read more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best treatment.read more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my doctor.read more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding solutions.read more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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