Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), formerly known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, describes chronic pain in a limb after some sort of injury. The pain is abnormal or excessive compared to how you would expect to respond to a typical injury. This pain can feel like burning, tingling, or pressure, and can be accompanied by swelling, discoloration, or changes in skin temperature. The most common causes of CRPS are fractures, sprains, burns, cuts, bruises, limb immobilization, surgery, or needle stick. It is still unknown why these injuries cause CRPS in some people but not others.
Anyone can get CRPS, but it is rare in the elderly and children under the age of 10. Complex regional pain syndrome is challenging to treat, but there are numerous treatment options for this chronic pain that are successful in helping patients reduce their pain and significantly improve their function. Nerve blocks involve injecting medicine under image guidance that block nerves that carry pain signals from different parts of the body. Spinal cord stimulation and dorsal root ganglion stimulation help to modulate pain pathways by the delivery of small doses of electricity to the spinal cord. Level I evidence (i.e. the highest level of clinical evidence for treatments) exists for both spinal cord stimulation and dorsal root ganglion stimulation in their effectiveness in treating CRPS.
Those who experience chronic pain may feel discouraged from exercising because they are concerned that pushing themselves too far will result in a flare up of their pain. This can lead to habitual aversion to exercise that becomes a lifestyle. This sedative lifestyle is counterproductive because exercise can actually help to reduce the effects of chronic pain. Research has shown a correlation between chronic pain and a decrease in neuroplasticity, the brain’s physical ability to form new neural connections. Exercise can increase the brains ability by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain. As this improves, the brain is more equipped to overcome chronic pain.
Exercise can also help one deal with chronic pain by lubricating joints and strengthening muscles, which can allow someone to return to normal function in a way they might not have been able to previously. Regaining this freedom helps improve self-image and optimism, which combat the depression that sometimes comes with chronic pain. Some of the best workouts for those with chronic pain includes walking, swimming, stretching and yoga. Light exercise may cause some soreness or pain during or after the workout, but it is important to know this isn’t worsening your condition, your body just needs to adjust to the increase in activity. Though exercise isn’t necessarily a complete “cure” for chronic pain, it can be an excellent tool to minimize its negative effects.