Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Pain management health centre

Select a topic to explore more.
Select An Article

Complex regional pain syndrome

A person with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) will experience continuous severe pain in one of their limbs. It normally begins as an overreaction to an injury. Although there is no cure for the condition, a combination of treatments can help manage it.

What is complex regional pain syndrome?

When CRPS occurs the body has a strong reaction to an injury resulting in on-going severe pain. This response to the injury is much stronger that it should be. It usually occurs in only one limb, and although occasionally the whole limb can be affected, it most often occurs in a hand and wrist, a foot and ankle, or a knee.

There are two types of complex regional pain syndrome:

  • CRPS I (sometimes known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy/RSD or Sudeck's syndrome) - pain develops although there is an absence of identifiable injury to any nerves. It follows an injury such as a sprain or fracture.
  • CRPS II (sometimes known as causalgia) - pain develops after damage to a nerve in the limb.

Regardless of the type, diagnosis and treatment are the same. Although CRPS often improves, or gets completely better, over time, sometimes it never disappears.

What are the causes of complex regional pain syndrome?

It is not known exactly what causes CRPS but it is often triggered by a bone fracture or other injury such as a sprain, strain, burn or cut. Although the cut may have occurred to a finger, the pain can spread to the whole arm. Sometimes a stroke or having a number of operations on a limb can be a trigger. Having a limb in a plaster cast or otherwise immobilised can also trigger CRPS, as can prolonged bed rest. In about 1 in 10 cases CRPS develops without any trigger being identified.

Experts believe that the condition could occur because the nerves in the affected area are more sensitive than they should be, and the pain pathways between them and the brain are altered somehow, affecting how the brain communicates with the affected limb. If this happens, long after the original injury has healed, the pain continues. Other theories include a malfunction in the immune system or blood vessels.

Next Article:

WebMD Medical Reference

Mind, body & soul newsletter

Looking after your health and wellbeing.
Sign Up

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

How to help headache pain
smiling baby
Causes and remedies
man holding sore neck
16 tips when you have a lot of weight to lose
mother and child
Caring for a baby with cows' milk allergy
woman looking at pregnancy test
Is your body ready for pregnancy?
man holding sore neck
8 signs you're headed for menopause
couple makigh salad
Nutrition for over 50s
bain illustration
Best foods for your brain
rash on skin
Top eczema triggers to avoid
rubber duckie
Hidden allergy hotspots in homes
egg in cup
Surprising things that can harm your liver