What is CRPS?

The United States National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke terms Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), formerly known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), as a “chronic (lasting longer than six months) pain condition that most often affects one limb (arm, leg, hand or foot) usually after injury and it is believed to be caused by damage or malfunction to the central and sympathetic nervous systems.”

CRPS is divided into two types: CRPS Type I andCRPS Type II. CRPS Type I includes individuals without a clear nerve injury (this is the majority of cases) and it is also where the RSD name stems from. CRPS Type II, which is/was often referred to causalgia, involves a confirmed nerve injury.

In some cases, CRPS does spread to multiple limbs and into other parts of the body.

What are the symptoms and how is CRPS diagnosed?

Symptoms vary from patient to patient. They include edema, allodynia, sweating, burning, swelling, shooting pains, pins and needles, drilling sensations, pressure, deep chills, cool air, numbness, loss of sensation to touch, hair loss and disproportionate nail growth in the affected limb, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and many more feelings.

The left hand being held on top is one with CRPS and clearly swollen.

Our friends at the RSD Society of America put together this great YouTube video featuring Dr. Norman Harden, in the pain management center at Northwestern in Illinois, that reviews the Budapest Criteria for diagnosing CRPS.


What does the pain feel like?

In order to help make you relate, CRPS ranks as the most painful possible human condition according to the widely accepted McGill Pain Scale. CRPS pain ranks worse than the agony affiliated with amputation of a limb, cancer, and child birth.

This video from Ken McKim of Don’t Punish Pain does an excellent job covering what CRPS pain can feel like for some.


There will be numerous posts chronicling the physical, emotional, and mental pain behind CRPS. In my experience, there were many days and nights I cried for hours at a time because pain medication couldn’t help reduce the pain or even make me the slightest bit comfortable.


Who can get CRPS?

At this point, medical experts think anyone could potentially nbe open to CRPS.


What type of doctor treats for CRPS?

The short answer is a group of doctors. If your primary care physician (PCP) is familiar with CRPS, that is a great start. You will certainly want to incorporate a multidisciplinary solution that includes your PCP, a pain management specialist, a neurologist, a physiatrist, a doctor in physical therapy or a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a rheumatologist, and a mental health professional.

What cures and treatments are available?

There isn’t a cure for CRPS. There are an array of treatment options though there is not a general consensus best fit for most patients. Among the many treatments options include:

  • Mental health therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Varying pharmaceutical medications (I’m not a doctor so I don’t want dive into a conversation about each drug.
  • Sympathetic nerve blocks
  • Pain pumps (surgical procedure)
  • Ketamine fusion therapy
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation implant systems (surgical procedure)
  • Sympathectomy

Other Possible Treatments:

  • Acupuncture
  • Floatation therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Medicinal Marijuana (in applicable locations)

What dietary tips might help?

Anti-inflammatory diets play a vital role in reducing swelling for CRPS patients. This means switching to a gluten free and dairy free diet. You will also want to eat plenty of greens and healthy fruits high in antioxidants. Buy organic when and where you can. Your body will thank you later.

Should you need help with any dietary shift, I can provide general guidance or refer you to a great coach.

Please check the BLOG page for discussions about food and/or recipes I may share.