Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Complex regional pain syndrome is a rare, chronic pain condition that usually affects an arm or leg after an injury, surgery, or stroke, causing severe and persistent pain.

The basics

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic condition that can cause intense pain, swelling, stiffness, and changes in skin color and temperature in an affected limb. It can make it difficult to move and can impact your quality of life. Although it can be triggered by an injury, it can also occur without any known cause.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for CRPS, but with early diagnosis and a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, many people with CRPS are able to manage their symptoms and improve their overall function.

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The presentation of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) can vary from person to person, but it typically involves intense, burning pain, swelling, and changes in skin color and temperature. Other common symptoms include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, and loss of mobility in the affected limb. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Sensitivity to touch or cold temperatures
  • Changes in skin texture, such as thinning or thickening
  • Excessive sweating or dryness in the affected area
  • Joint stiffness or tightness
  • Loss of hair or nail growth in the affected limb
  • Tremors or involuntary movements of the limb
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Therapies & treatments


Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and opioids may be used to manage pain associated with CRPS.


Physical therapy can be helpful in managing CRPS symptoms by improving flexibility, strength, and range of motion. Exercises may include gentle stretching, strengthening exercises, and range of motion exercises.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy can help patients with CRPS to learn new ways to perform activities of daily living and manage pain during activities.

Sympathetic nerve block

A sympathetic nerve block involves injecting an anesthetic near the affected nerves to block the pain signals.

Spinal cord stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation is a minimally invasive procedure that involves implanting a small device under the skin to deliver electrical signals to the spinal cord, which can help to block pain signals.

Intravenous ketamine infusion

Ketamine infusion therapy is a treatment option for CRPS that involves administering a low dose of ketamine through an IV over a period of several hours.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that can help individuals with CRPS to learn coping strategies and manage the emotional impact of the condition.

Graded motor imagery

Graded motor imagery is a therapy technique that involves using visual imagery to help reduce pain and improve motor function in individuals with CRPS.

Mirror therapy

Mirror therapy is a form of therapy that uses a mirror to reflect the unaffected limb, giving the illusion of movement in the affected limb, and can help to reduce pain and improve function.

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Self-care strategies

Gentle exercise

Engaging in low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, or yoga, can help improve circulation and reduce stiffness and pain.

Stress management

Stress can exacerbate CRPS symptoms, so learning stress management techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can be an effective way to manage pain.

Sleep hygiene

Practicing good sleep hygiene, such as establishing a regular sleep schedule, avoiding stimulating activities before bed, and creating a comfortable sleep environment can help improve sleep quality and reduce pain.


Eating a balanced diet can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health and well-being, which can help manage CRPS symptoms. It may be helpful to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your diet, while avoiding processed foods, sugar, and alcohol.

Warm/cold therapy

Applying heat or cold to the affected area can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.

TENS therapy

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy involves using a small device that sends electrical impulses to the affected area to reduce pain.

Mind-body techniques

Practices such as guided imagery, meditation, and biofeedback can help manage pain and improve overall well-being.


Gently massaging the affected area can help reduce muscle tension and pain.


Using compression garments or wraps can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.

Education and self-advocacy

Learning as much as possible about CRPS and advocating for yourself with healthcare providers can help you better manage your condition and get the treatment you need. Joining support groups or online communities can also be helpful in connecting with others who have similar experiences.

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