Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)

Complex regional pain syndrome is a condition which sometimes occurs after an injury.  It is most common in the hands and feet, but can occur in any part of the body.  It is not fully understood what causes CRPS, but injuries, such as fractures, are common triggers for the condition.  It is thought that the pain nerves from the affected area become overly sensitive, so that pain messages continue to be sent to the brain, even once the initial injury has resolved.  It is also thought that the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system which controls things such as blood flow, temperature and sweating) is also affected in CRPS. This means that the affected body part will often appear discoloured, excessively hot or cold and swollen.  Due to nerve sensitivity, parts of the body affected by CRPS will often be very painful, even to light touch.  Because of this, joints often become stiff and muscles become weak.

Your physiotherapist will teach you exercises to start and get your movement and strength back.  They will also discuss with you how to gradually decrease the sensitivity of your joint by gently touching and stroking the affected part.  Your physio may also use mirror therapy, which involves covering up the affected body part and looking at the reflection of the other side of your body whilst moving your limb.  This is thought to reduce the sensitivity of the nerves by “tricking” the brain into thinking that the reflection is the painful body part moving normally.  For further information about CRPS please visit the Arthritis Research UK website.