Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex regional pain syndrome is a form of chronic pain typically affecting an arm or leg. While there is no unifying explanation yet known to account for the diverse features of this condition, it is known to most commonly occur following an injury, surgery or heart attack and fractures are thought to be common precipitating events.

Individuals experiencing CRPS may have the following symptoms:

  • Continuous burning or throbbing pain, usually in your arm, leg, hand or foot
  • Sensitivity to touch or cold
  • Swelling of the painful area
  • Changes in skin temperature — alternating between sweaty and cold
  • Changes in skin color, ranging from white and mottled to red or blue
  • Changes in skin texture, which may become tender, thin or shiny in the affected area
  • Changes in hair and nail growth
  • Joint stiffness, swelling and damage
  • Muscle spasms, tremors, weakness and loss (atrophy)
  • Decreased ability to move the affected body part

OT intervention in this population may include:

  • Collaboration with interdisciplinary team (MD, surgeon, pain management specialists)
  • Intervention to improve range of motion
  • desensitization
  • Edema management
  • promotion of normal positioning and decreased muscle guarding
  • ADL training and intervention targeting functional use of the extremity
  • Mirror box therapy
  • Graded motor imagery
  • Transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS)