What is RSD / CRPS?

RSD or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy also called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is a Chronic Pain Disease that plagues millions of people around the world.

Symptoms of RSD include:

  • severe burning pain
  • extreme sensitivity to touch
  • dramatic color changes and temperature in the effected area
  • skin sensitivity (sensitive to touch, sound,movement and sometimes even a slight wind)
  • pathological changes in bone(Osteoporosis and sometimes warping of the bone.)
  • excessive sweating in the effected area
  • tissue swelling

According to the Neurological Channel:

“RSD also known as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), is a chronic, painful, and progressive neurological condition that affects skin, muscles, joints, and bones. The syndrome usually develops in an injured limb, such as a broken leg, or following surgery. However, many cases of RSD involve only a minor injury, such as a sprain. And in some cases, no precipitating event can be identified.”

There is no known cure for RSD/CRPS but it was originally described by Silas Weir Michell during the American Civil War, who is sometimes also credited with inventing the name “causalgia,” which is the original name of RSD Type II

RSD/CRPS doesn’t know age, sex, or race. It can strike anyone. It effects women more often then men but that number is steadily increasing.

There are two different type of RSD/CRPS. Both share the same symptoms but Type II is when there is obvious nerve damage of some kind that can be tested by a EMG or a Electromyography. While Type I does not give a positive result for nerve damage when said EMG is done.

DISCLAIMER: The following “Four Stages” are no longer used for the medical community. They now are merely guidelines and should not be used for treatment or diagnosis of RSD/CRPS. We keep them for historical reference.

There are Four Stages of RSD/CRPS

  1. Stage One: Last anywhere from 1 to 3 months
    1. Some of the characteristics are warmth, coolness, burning pain, edema, increased sensitivity to touch, increased pain, accelerated hair/nail growth, tenderness or stiffness in the joint, spasms, limited mobility, some bony changes may be visible on X-Ray or abnormal amount of pain for the injury. In this stage there is decreased sympathetic activity. Also if correct action is taken this is the stage where remission is most likely.
  2. Stage Two: Last Anywhere from 3 to 6 Months
    1. Stage two is called the Dystrophic Stage and can last three to six months. Pain is constant, as in stage one, and is throbbing, burning, aching, crushing in nature and is exacerbated by any stimuli. The affected limb may still be edematous, cool, cyanotic (discolored), or mottled (different shades). Nails are brittle and ridged. Pain and stiffness persists. Muscle wasting may begin.
    2. Patients usually start experiencing short-term memory problems, as well as increased pain from noises and/or vibrations. X-Rays may reveal signs of osteoporosis. Patients may start to repeat themselves. In this stage there is increased sympathetic activity.
    3. Some doctors will try and use tools such as x-rays, Bone Scans, thermograms, and others during Stage 2 and Stage 3 to confirm a diagnosis of RSDS. Understand that while these tests MAY show the presence of RSD, they are NOT conclusive. The only positive way of diagnosing RSD/CRPS is a physical exam by a doctor knowledgeable in RSD. These other tests should only be used as one of many tools to aid in that diagnosis. They are also useful in tracking the progress of the disease.
  3. Stage Three:
    1. Stage three is called the atrophic stage and can last an unlimited amount of time. Pain can increase or decrease, depending on the person, and the RSDS may spread to other parts of the body. At this stage irreversible tissue damage may occur. Skin becomes cool, thin, and shiny.
    2. Contraction of the extremity may occur as well as atrophy of the limb (decreased joint movement). Skin atrophies (wasting away) and loss of movement or mobility may also occur. X-Rays may show marked demineralization and increased osteoporosis.
    3. At this stage many RSD patients are not likely to be effectively treated with blocks as the percentage of SIP (Sympahetically Independent Pain) is now much greater than the percentage of SMP (Sympathetically Mediated Pain), meaning the majority of the pain signals are now originating in the brain and not at the original RSD site where a local block would help.
    4. Pumps are usually discussed at this stage but there are other treatments available and more are coming all the time.
  4. Stage Four
    1. Most patients will never advance to Stage 4.
    2. In this Fourth Stage, RSD is resistant to many forms of treatment and many Physicians would now recommend a Pump or a DCS/SCS. However, there are problems associated with the use of SCS units for RSD patients, even though they work well for other pain problems.
    3. Also in this stage there is an involvement of the inner organs.

Always ask to speak to a doctors before undergoing any type of implant, surgical procedure, or any form of treatment.

Talking to fellow RSD Angels helps but does not take the place of a medical professional.

Educate yourself.

9 Replies to “What is RSD / CRPS?”

  1. This is wonderful and I have seen this in other sites, but this goes in to more details. Thank you! I am a CRPS warrior and have had it since 2011. I am nearing Stage 4. I have not seen this site yet, but I am glad someone posted this site.

    1. Hi Tracey. I am so happy you found this site and posted. You are among family here. I am guessing that you are following the RSD puzzle site as you mentioned you were nearing Stage 4. I don’t know if you knew this or not but The Stages in RSD/ CRPS are no longer being recognized by the medical community because there is no normal stage of progression that they can track that way. Each patient is different but we totally understand what you mean. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us using the Contact Us page. Hope you have a decent day and that the pain is nice to you day.

  2. Finally a site that helps me out, I have all of Systems, doctors don’t believe me, they say it is my medication but I know it’s not, my musles swell, saw to touch, tissue break down, body in pain all the time, musle weakness, i have had for10yrs

    1. While we hope (and at the same time don’t) you found your answer, the best thing you can do now is print off the information from nih and when your swollen take photos and then when your not swollen take photos. And if possible take all that to your doctor and ask to be referred to someone familiar with it.

    2. I know the feeling of doctors and others not believing you , I have the same problem, they claim they dont know what the problem is, I am in pain most days 24/7, from the left side of my face down to my toes, especially on that side, cant stand cold weather, cant stand clothes most days, hurts all the time if my husband didnt believe me I would not be able to carry on he is the only thing keeping me
      here these days,

  3. I am so grateful for this site. I have had RSD/CRPS since 2012. Getting ready to have my permanent scs installed next month. Gentle Hugs to you all and thanks so much for this site. It is VERY informative. I will share on my face book.

  4. I have just found this site, I am a long term sufferer and have been since 2002. It started in my leg after keyhole surgery on my knee, it is now in both feet and legs, should and arm. Im on MST and Pregabalin plus other meds but these for the CRPS. I was turned down for an SCS as CRPS is in numerous places. Im in the UK and this is a very informative site. Thank you Best wishes to you all.

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