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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?

CRPS, sometimes called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), is a very painful nerve injury that can affect various parts of the body, frequently the arm, hand, leg or foot. It affects more than 1 million Americans. The level of pain caused by CRPS/RSD is much higher that what you would normally expect from what appears to be a minor injury. The intense pain appears to be out of proportion compared to the injury that caused it. Most CRPS/RSD patients describe the pain as a burning sensation. It is recognized as the most painful disease according to the McGill Pain Scale – above that of cancer pain, childbirth and traumatic amputation. It is considered a chronic (lasting more than six months) condition. If symptoms do not improve, CRPS/RSD is typically incurable.

There are two types of CRPS:

  • Type 1 – This type typically happens after an injury that did not directly damage the nerves of the affected limb. This type is previously known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). About 90 percent of victims have Type 1.
  • Type 2 – This type happens after a distinct nerve injury. This type was previously known as causalgia.

What Causes CRPS/RSD?

CRPS is believed to be caused by damage to, or malfunction of, the peripheral and central nervous systems.  The central nervous system is composed of the brain and spinal cord; the peripheral nervous system involves nerve signaling from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body.  

Much is unknown about what causes CRPS and why some people are affected while others are not. In more than 90 percent of the cases, CRPS is triggered by a clear history of trauma or injury to a limb. The most common triggers are fractures, sprains/strains, soft tissue injuries, such as cuts or bruises, limb immobilization in a cast, surgery or even a minor medical procedure such as a needle in the arm.

There are different theories about why complex regional pain syndrome arises. Sensory Nerve fibers may be damages near an injury site which carry pain messages and signals to blood vessels. These hyperactive small nerve fibers are thought to contribute to inflammation and blood vessel abnormalities which trigger abnormal neurological function in the spinal cord and brain resulting in a high level of pain and other symptoms. Another theory is that CRPS arises as a result of an immune response to injuries which may contribute to the redness, swelling and warmth reported by patients.

Who Can Get CRPS/RSD?

Unfortunately, almost anyone can get CRPS at any age, although it is more prevalent in women with a peak at age 40. Very few children under age 10 and almost no children under age 5 are affected. CRPS is rare in the elderly.

What Are The Symptoms of CRPS/RSD?

CRPS symptoms can vary in severity and duration. Some cases are mild and temporary. In more severe cases, symptoms may be chronic with patients suffering long-term disability. The most significant symptom is prolonged severe pain. It is often described as a burning pain. There is often increased sensitivity to the affected area in which normal contact with the skin is experienced as very painful. This is called allodynia.
Other common symptoms of CRPS/RSD include:

  • Changes in skin temperature and skin color in the affected limb;
  • Swelling of the affected limb;
  • Abnormal sweating in the affected area; skin that may appear shiny;
  • Changes in hair and nail growth;
  • Joint stiffness;
  • Muscle spasms, weakness and decreased mobility of the affected limb.

Treatment for CRPS/RSD

The treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment options include rehabilitation and physical therapy, psychological counseling, medication, sympathetic nerve blocks, and spinal cord stimulators.

What Can a CRPS/RSD Lawyer Do For Me?

CRPS can be caused by any type of trauma, even what may appear as a minor slip and fall accident. Because the symptoms are disproportionate to the initial injury and because the condition is difficult to diagnose, many insurance companies will try to accuse the victim of faking the injury or exaggerating the symptoms.

If you or a loved one are the victim of someone else’s negligence resulting in CRPS you need an attorney who understands the complexities of this condition and how to prove your symptoms are real. At The O’Connor Law Firm, we have experience fighting for clients with CRPS. We know how to discuss the chronic pain of this misunderstood condition with insurance adjusters, defendants, judges and juries. We also work with experts who can powerfully explain the cause and the symptoms of this condition.

Contact our office now and see how we can help you. All initial consultations are free and you never owe us anything unless we obtain a successful settlement or jury verdict for you. Call our offices at 312-566-4868 or 718-948-3500. We can even come to see you, if you are unable to travel to one of our offices.

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