You may be recovering from an injury or surgery on a limb when the pain begins. For others, the pain begins without a clear cause. This is called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) or reflex sympathetic dystrophy. The cause of CRPS is not well understood.
For some people, the pain, swelling, and stiffness can be much worse than the original injury. This pain can last a long time—months or even years. Although it is an unusual condition, it is very real. You may feel better on some days than on others. Your skin may become very sensitive, and it may look blotchy or shiny. You may have trouble moving the limb.
This condition sometimes goes away after some months. More likely, you will need a treatment plan to reduce symptoms and prevent permanent damage. You may have to try several treatments before you find what works best for you. In some cases, shots into the nerve area (nerve blocks) seem to reduce symptoms. Pain medicine is only one part of successful treatment. Physical therapy and counseling can also help.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Try to relax and reduce stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help.
- Keep moving, if you can. Gentle, daily exercise, such as walking or swimming, can help reduce pain over the long term.
- Apply a heating pad set on low or a warm cloth to the painful area.
- Gently massage the painful area.
- Get enough sleep. Talk with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping because of pain.
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed.
- Your doctor may have prescribed medicines used to treat depression and seizures. These medicines can reduce your pain, help you sleep better, and improve your mood.
- If you are not taking a prescription medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
- Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
- Keep a daily pain diary. Record how your moods, thoughts, sleep patterns, activities, and medicine affect your pain. Having a record can help you and your doctor find the best ways to treat your pain.
- Try to think positively. Remember that your thoughts can affect your pain level. Do things you enjoy to make yourself feel better when you have pain. See a movie, read a book, listen to music, or spend time with a friend. Let your doctor know if you are feeling depressed or anxious.
When should you call for help?
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- Your pain is getting worse or is out of control.
- You feel you can't stop from hurting yourself or someone else.
Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:
- Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
- Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.
Consider saving these numbers in your phone.
Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You cannot sleep because of your pain and stiffness.
- You are feeling down or blue, or you are not enjoying things like you once did.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter R732 in the search box to learn more about "Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: Care Instructions".
Current as of: August 25, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine