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CRPS - Complex regional pain syndrome

Patient information A-Z

What is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a condition in which there is a collection of symptoms occurring together in a painful part of the body, most often a single limb. Symptoms other than pain may include:

  • The affected limb being extra sensitive, for example just lightly brushing the skin can provoke intense pain
  • Changes in the skin colour of the affected limb; it may look more pale, have a blueish tinge or appear blotchy or streaky.
  • Changes in the skin temperature of the affected limb; it may be sweaty or feel cold and clammy.
  • Changes in the way the hair grows on the affected limb, hair may grow more quickly, change colour or not grow at all.
  • The affected limb may swell for no apparent reason and the affected limb joint may feel very stiff.
  • Changes in the speed of nail growth and texture, nails on the affected limb may grow faster, thicker, more brittle or not grow at all.

Commonly affected areas are the hands, feet, knees and elbows.

CRPS is usually, but not always, triggered by an injury or trauma to a part of the body and there are two types of CRPS:

Type 1 – is triggered by an apparently trivial injury, where no nerve damage has occurred, such as a sprained ankle.

Type 2 – is triggered by more serious injury, such as a broken bone, operation or serious infection, where damage to the nerves has taken place.

The most common type of CRPS is Type 1.

The symptoms of CRPS range from mild to severe. Some people attain remission from their symptoms after a few months but other people may experience repeated episodes of CRPS throughout their life.

What causes CRPS?

The exact cause of CRPS remains unclear but it has been a recognised condition for over 150 years. Due to the complex nature of the symptoms of CRPS it is believed that it is likely to be caused by a combination of factors rather than just one single cause. Both women and men of all ages, including children, can be affected by CRPS.

How is CRPS treated?

A multi-disciplinary approach to treatment is recommended due to the challenging complex nature of CRPS. Treatments may include medications, specialist physiotherapy sessions, occupational therapy, self directed pain management strategies and sometimes nerve block injections. Psychological therapies can also be helpful to enable some people to cope with this condition and to take an active part in their own treatment.

Following your assessment with the consultant and the diagnosis of CRPS, your consultant will suggest and discuss with you a plan of treatment.

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Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151